‘We have a great story to tell as hu­man species’

Finweek English Edition - - Cover -


few months, wealthy South Africans and high profile peo­ple have been try­ing to gag the me­dia to pre­vent in­for­ma­tion about them be­ing pub­lished in news­pa­pers. John Camp­bell has been at the fore­front of en­sur­ing that the me­dia can tell peo­ple’s sto­ries by de­fend­ing free­dom of speech.

On the sur­face it ap­pears that Camp­bell, with his of­fice re­sem­bling that of a univer­sity lec­turer, is an in­tel­lec­tual not cut out to be a top lawyer. How­ever, Camp­bell is one of SA’s best lawyers, who is fix­ated on law and do­ing a great deal in deal­ing with his high-profile cases. He’s rep­re­sented a num­ber of me­dia houses and prac­ti­tion­ers in cases that in­volve prom­i­nent peo­ple. He’s rep­re­sented the Mail & Guarda­gainst ian Imvume Hold­ings, which was try­ing to gag the weekly news­pa­per from re­port­ing its in­volve-

ment in the Oil­gate scan­dal. Camp­bell sees him­self as a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner of law.

Camp­bell mostly rep­re­sents me­dia houses and says: “It’s in­ci­den­tal that lawyers man­age to cap­ture me­dia at­ten­tion. Some­times the me­dia is in­ter­ested in a par­tic­u­lar case and you hap­pen to be there.”

He be­lieves that great lawyers are born from hard work and long hours. Camp­bell, who grew up in Cape Town, was never in­flu­enced by his par­ents to study law.

He says that it’s al­ways a tac­ti­cal mis­take in a trial for a lawyer to be a cen­tre­piece of the case, as it’s sup­posed to be the wit­ness who’s ei­ther do­ing well or bad.

Be­ing a celebrity lawyer you’re al­ways likely to en­counter chal­lenges. “The chal­lenge for all of us in this job is to, firstly, do the best you can pos­si­bly do for your client and cer­tainly do it within the frame­work of our le­gal sys­tems and the val­ues of our Con­stitu- tion. And not mis­lead your clients.”

Camp­bell doesn’t like to be seen as act­ing as a pub­lic re­la­tions per­son for his high-profile clients. He says: “I’ll never talk to the press about my clients’ cases.” He’s not amused by me­dia hype sur­round­ing prom­i­nent tri­als. “But there will al­ways be hype from the me­dia about peo­ple in­volved in high-profile cases,” he says.

Camp­bell, a se­nior mem­ber of the Jo­han­nes­burg Bar, says that small hu­man dra­mas found in ev­ery case cre­ate the magic in the law pro­fes­sion. He ranks SA’s ju­di­ciary among the world’s best. “I’m in­spired by real sto­ries of great pre­de­ces­sors in our pro­fes­sion, such as the late Issy Maisels and Arthur Chaskalson. Those are peo­ple who used their skills con­struc­tively in this world.”

Asked what he thinks about celebrity lawyers, he replies: “I’m not one of those peo­ple who think that lawyers are the star ac­tors in the stage of so­ci­ety. Peo­ple shouldn’t over­es­ti­mate the role of lawyers in our so­ci­ety, be­cause they play a sup­port­ing role.”

Camp­bell likes to read old and cur­rent his­tory books. “We have a great story to tell as hu­man species.”

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