Pa­tel: I wanted apol­ogy

Re­lief for re­tired judge pres­i­dent


ALL re­tired KwaZulu-Natal judge pres­i­dent Chi­man Pa­tel wanted was an apol­ogy for what he felt was ma­li­cious pros­e­cu­tion and rep­u­ta­tional dam­age when he was charged with crimen in­juria, but said no one was in­ter­ested.

Speak­ing to the Daily News yes­ter­day just af­ter judg­ment was handed down award­ing him R900 000 for dam­ages suf­fered, Pa­tel said he was even willing to set­tle for a lesser amount, but this, too, was de­clined.

Pa­tel, pic­tured, said af­ter four years of the case hanging over his head, he was re­lieved that it was fi­nally over.

He had sued the pro­vin­cial di­rec­tor of public pros­e­cu­tions, ad­vo­cate Moipone Noko, and the na­tional di­rec­tor of public pros­e­cu­tions for R3 mil­lion in dam­ages for the em­bar­rass­ment brought by the crim­i­nal case, im­pair­ment of his dig­nity and rep­u­ta­tion, and hu­mil­i­a­tion.

The law­suit em­anates from a 2013 in­ci­dent at Pa­tel’s cham­bers with a sta­tionery clerk, Lindiwe Nx­ele, who had claimed Pa­tel had shouted at her and called her names in­clud­ing “non­sense, trash, rub­bish and use­less”.

Pa­tel said: “As far as the money is con­cerned, at some point af­ter the charges against me were with­drawn, I was ac­tu­ally willing to ac­cept a lower amount, but they (the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity) re­fused to apol­o­gise.”

Pa­tel’s registrar Roma Mo­rar and court man­ager Kar­lien Marais were with him in his cham­bers at the time of the in­ci­dent and sup­ported him when they tes­ti­fied.

Pa­tel had de­nied the claims and at the time said to Nx­ele: “Do I have to cope with this rub­bish.”

He said he was not re­fer­ring to Nx­ele per­son­ally.

Gaut­eng Judge Aubrey Led­waba said the fact that the word “rub­bish” was used was not in dis­pute.

“What is in dis­pute is the con­text it was used. I am mind­ful, in a so­ci­ety such as ours with a di­ver­sity of lan­guages, there is al­ways scope for mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­in­ter­pret­ing language.”

“In my view, the duty of a pros­e­cu­tor is to care­fully con­sider all the ver­sions of the wit­nesses’ state­ments and de­ter­mine whether con­tra­dic­tions were ma­te­rial or not be­fore a de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute is made,” he said.

Pa­tel, a prac­tis­ing Hindu, had ar­gued that the serv­ing of a sum­mons on Oc­to­ber 22, 2014, dur­ing Di­wali – one of the most aus­pi­cious oc­ca­sions in the Hindu cal­en­dar – was in his view in­tended to hu­mil­i­ate him.

Led­waba pointed out that the serv­ing of sum­mons on Di­wali was “not ma­li­cious and not in­tended to em­bar­rass him as a mem­ber of the Hindu re­li­gion”.

The in­ci­dent was widely pub­li­cised in the me­dia and he had to ap­pear in the crim­i­nal court on two oc­ca­sions as an ac­cused.

Thir­teen months later, the charge was with­drawn with­out an ex­pla­na­tion.

Led­waba said dur­ing this time the prospect of be­ing pros­e­cuted would have been hanging over his head.

He said no mean­ing­ful at­tempts were made to pur­sue al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion meth­ods like me­di­a­tion.

“When he was sum­moned to ap­pear in the crim­i­nal court, he was not given an op­tion to pay an ad­mis­sion-of-guilt fine. The fail­ure by Noko to pur­sue med­i­ta­tion is, in my view, an in­di­ca­tion that she was in­tent on see­ing the mat­ter be­ing heard in a crim­i­nal court,” the judge found.

Noko, who had made the de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute Pa­tel, had told the court that the de­ci­sion to with­draw crimen in­juria charges against Pa­tel was made af­ter she learnt that Nx­ele’s ver­sion kept chang­ing.

She had said the team of se­nior pros­e­cu­tors who in­ves­ti­gated the mat­ter dis­cov­ered the woman “sud­denly” felt that her dig­nity was not im­paired by the use of the word “rub­bish” – the cen­tral plank of her ac­cu­sa­tion against Pa­tel.

She said the charges were dropped af­ter a three-woman pros­e­cut­ing team, ap­pointed by Noko to con­sult with Nx­ele and all the wit­nesses, told her that to con­tinue would be “pros­e­cut­ing ma­li­ciously”.

Led­waba said he found that Noko was not a good wit­ness.

Led­waba found that no mean­ing­ful at­tempts were made to pur­sue al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion meth­ods and when Pa­tel ap­peared in court on the crim­i­nal charge, he was not given an op­tion to pay an ad­mis­sion-of-guilt fine.

“She did not, in my view, ex­e­cute the du­ties rea­son­ably as ex­pected. She gave long­winded and ar­gu­men­ta­tive an­swers when she tes­ti­fied,” Led­waba said.

Pa­tel said the money was not an is­sue. He said he was happy that the truth had pre­vailed.

“A judge from another di­vi­sion lis­tened to every­one in­volved and ar­rived at his de­ci­sion. I am glad it is fi­nally over,” said Pa­tel.

Noko was not avail­able for com­ment.

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