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Patel said: “As far as the money is concerned, at some point after the charges against me were withdrawn, I was actually willing to accept a lower amount, but they (the National Prosecuting Authority) refused to apologise.”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