Judgement in Downer, Maughan applications reserved

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The Pietermaritzburg High Court has reserved judgement on the applications by Advocate Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan to have former President Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution set aside.

Zuma is accusing Downer of allegedly leaking his confidential medical records to Maughan.

On Monday, the court heard that it was in fact Advocate Andrew Breitenbach from the Cape Bar, and not Downer, who sent the documents to Maughan. Downer and Maughan both contend that the documents were part of the public court record before they were published in the media.

The day began with a picket by a group of journalists outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court in support of journalist Karyn Maughan.

Provincial convenor of the South African National Editors Forum, Judy Sandison, says they support “women journalists” who are not allowed to freely do their work.

“Journalists at all times need to work in a free and fair environment and this is a media freedom principle that if journalists are not free to do their work the best way they can, then our society is not benefitting from all the news and information they can get. And Karyn Maughan is a leading example of an excellent journalist in South Africa. She’s been subjected to a lot of harassment and online bullying and that is not right. We are here to defend not only Karyn Maughan, but also all journalist who need a freed environment in order to do their work,” says Sandison.

Former President Jacob Zuma’s legal team told the court that the amicus curiae or friends of the court have taken a stance to attack him.

For Zuma, Advocate Thabani Masuku told the court that the submissions by Sanef and the Helen Suzman Foundation, that the private prosecution is an attack on the media, are simply not true.

“You would have heard, amici even choice of language in your title, Mr Zuma. You submit that amici and the Helen Suzman foundation have failed to utilise their status as friends of court to make submissions that are helpful in court that would enhance sub judicative process or even enhance its independence. The perception that the court must be independent is very important and when it has friends assisting it who are antagonistic to one party, the court ought to be careful how it receives those particular submissions,” Masuku elaborates.

Advocate Dali Mpofu for Zuma questioned why Downer and Maughan brought their applications to a civil court in a matter that is pending in a criminal court.

“Jurisdiction in this contest is very important because once again, why are we here in a civil motion court in front of three judges to determine a matter that belongs, which is actually running in the criminal court next door? Ironically, it’s actually not even next door, it is in this court; that is where the rub is. Is it permissible? Should it be allowed in our system that you have a criminal matter and you say, ‘no, just wait a little bit, my lord, I’m just going next door to the civil court to ask them to set aside this prosecution?’” says Mpofu.

Both Downer and Maughan are asking the court to set aside the private prosecution and also an interdict to prevent Zuma from pressing charges against them in future.

VIDEO: Downer, Maughan in court to stop former President Zuma’s private prosecution: Mzwanele Manyi