Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2006-11-13 Reporter: Wendy Jasson da Costa Reporter:

Shaik Judge's Clarification of Ruling has 'No Legal Consequences'



Cape Times




Wendy Jasson da Costa

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The controversy surrounding the statement that ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma and fraud and corruption convict Schabir Shaik had a "generally corrupt relationship" was a "storm in a tea cup", according to prosecutor Billy Downer.

He was responding to queries after the judge in the Shaik trial, Justice Hilary Squires, wrote to a weekend newspaper denying ever using that line in his judgment.

Judge Squires's letter came after the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment against Shaik last week, in which this statement was again attributed to him. Shaik started serving his 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption last week.

Yesterday Downer, the prosecutor in the Shaik case, said it was the media that had first used that line, not Squires, but it made no legal difference, "nothing, zero".
He said the issue over who had coined the phrase was irrelevant because "ultimately" that was the finding of the court. "It's an argument without any substance. It makes no difference because that's in effect what he (Squires) found," said Downer.

University of KwaZulu-Natal law professor Robin Palmer said whether or not Judge Squires had used it in his judgment would not affect the merits of the case and that the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal which quoted the phrase in its judgment and attributed it to Squires could not be set aside as erroneous.

The "ambiguous interpretation" of the phrase could have major political ramifications. "It is this ambiguity that will be exploited politically," said Palmer. This was already evident after various organisations that supported Zuma were now saying Judge Squires had judged him even before he appeared in court.

Palmer said, on the one hand, it could mean that Shaik had aggressively exploited Zuma, while, on the other hand, it could mean that Zuma and Shaik were in a corrupt relationship and were both aware of it.

He said Judge Squires must have written the letter because he realised that, after a year-and-a-half, the issue was still not being put into context.

Palmer said if Zuma was recharged his lawyers could argue the issue cast doubt on his prospect of having a fair trial.

Political analyst Adam Habib said it was a matter of "technicality" and even if Judge Squires had not said Zuma and Shaik had a generally corrupt relationship, "the judgment does speak of inappropriate behaviour".

Last night Zuma's lawyer Mike Hulley said Judge Squires had tried to correct an incorrect media perception and had thereby inadvertently also exposed some other perceptions.

The implication was that it brought into sharp focus whether or not Zuma would have a fair trial.

Judge Squires told the Cape Times last night his letter had been to a journalist who had incorrectly written that he had ruled there had been a "generally corrupt relationship" between Zuma and Shaik.

He said he had also written earlier this year to the newspaper's editor. Both were private letters not meant for publication. He had not raised the matter previously because there had been an appeal pending.

With acknowledgement to Wendy Jasson da Costa and Cape Times.