The Star Late Edition

Man pays heavy price for taking on State

- BONGANI NKOSI bongani.nkosi@inl.co.za

A JOBURG man is taking on the justice system over a practice he finds discrimina­tory against self-representi­ng litigants like himself.

Molefe Rufaro Mthulisi Dlodlo has waged a dragging legal battle at the South Gauteng High Court, Joburg, and in the process learnt with shock that self-represente­d litigants were not entitled to legal costs when they win.

On the contrary, loss to lawyer-represente­d opponents meant legal costs would be awarded against self-represente­d litigants.

An aggrieved Dlodlo has launched an applicatio­n at the South Gauteng High Court against the practice that judges spelled out to him whenever he triumphed. He was slapped with costs following losses.

His applicatio­n cited the “presiding officer” of the court as a respondent, as well the two respondent­s in his original matter.

According to the notice he filed, his applicatio­n will raise a constituti­onal issue.

He will argue that the practice was unconstitu­tional and discrimina­tory.

“… The continued restrictio­ns on presiding officers barring them from awarding cost orders in favour of successful self-representi­ng litigants is inconsiste­nt with Section 9 of the Constituti­on,” said the notice.

It added: “Should said self-representi­ng litigant be unsuccessf­ul in the matter, they are in that instant at a real and comprehens­ive risk of the presiding officer issuing a cost order against them.

“On the other hand, should said self-representi­ng litigant succeed in the matter, presiding officers are barred (by design, precedent or otherwise) from issuing cost orders in favour of the successful self-representi­ng litigant.”

Dlodlo said his applicatio­n was a result of his experience in a dragging matter he brought against his ex-wife and her father.

Ten applicatio­ns have been heard in the litigation.

“In those 10, I have prevailed in three applicatio­ns,” Dlodlo said.

“In those three applicatio­ns, I couldn’t get costs because the presiding officers were like, ’you’re a self-representi­ng litigant so nothing for you’.”

He was slapped with what he described as “punitive costs on an attorney-client scale” following most losses.

“Basically, I’m now in debt. I need to pay my ex-wife’s legal costs on an attorney-client scale,” he said.

“That for me is where this is not fair. If they win, I’m told to pay them. If I win, I’m told I can’t get anything.”

Dlodlo said his research indicated that the practice was old and came from times people did not need lawyers for court representa­tion.

“This is probably dating back to 100 years ago. You could just come to court and say your piece. You didn’t spend so much time and money.”

But times were different, and “today you do spend a lot of time and money” to go to court, Dlodlo said.

He recalled that in one applicatio­n he prepared 400 pages.

He had to print out a set of three bundles for himself, the respondent­s and the court at a cost of R1 per page.

“There has to be equality. It’s either everyone can claim their costs or no one can claim their costs.”

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