South Africa

Judge sets aside fraud trial after lawyer admits to being ’very drunk’ during proceedings

Johannesburg - A lawyer faces sanctions from the Legal Practice Council for representing her fraud-accused client while admitting to being “very drunk”.

Judge Francis Kganyago has ruled at the Polokwane High Court that the Legal Practice Council should probe the conduct and behaviour of the lawyer he named as Ms Maloko in his scathing judgment.

Not only was Maloko in a drunken stupor during magistrate court proceedings on December 1, 2020, she also admitted that she did not know what she was doing in court because she was a conveyancer and not a crime lawyer.

Judge Kganyago’s judgment followed a special application by the magistrate to have the fraud trial that started last August reviewed and set aside.

The magistrate wanted the trial to start afresh on grounds that Maloko’s client was poorly represented. This amounted to a breach of the client’s right to a fair trial.

Maloko admitted to the magistrate on December 1, 2020, that she was “very drunk” after her behaviour was found to be amiss. Her oddities included raising an irrational objection.

Maloko’s insobriety that fateful day followed her other apparent misdemeanours during the trial, the magistrate submitted to Judge Kganyago.

She was absent from proceedings several times without a reasonable explanation.

The magistrate was also shocked by Maloko’s failure to put the version of her client to State witnesses. The client, charged alongside an alleged accomplice, pleaded not guilty.

Judge Kganyago also received representation from the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, who conceded that Maloko’s behaviour scuppered her client’s trial.

“(Maloko) has conceded that she was very drunk in relation to the proceedings of 1st December 2020. In her own words she said she was ’very drunk’,” said Judge Kganyago.

“She had represented the first accused whilst she was not in her sound and sober senses.”

Maloko also compromised her client’s right to fair trial by taking instructions to represent him despite being a conveyancer.

“Since she knew nothing about court processes, I doubt whether she had properly prepared for the case,” said Judge Kganyago.

The client was as good as not represented during the trial, said the judge.

“In my view, taking into consideration that the first accused’s counsel was very drunk, and was a conveyancer who knew nothing about court processes, the first accused did not have the benefit of effective legal representation during trial,” Judge Kganyago found.

He remitted the trial to start afresh before another magistrate and referred Maloko to the Legal Practice Council for investigation.

“The conduct and behaviour of counsel is an issue of great concern as that is the conduct and behaviour not expected from an officer of the court,” Judge Kganyago said.

“A copy of this judgment needs to be brought to the attention of the Legal Practice Council for their investigation of the conduct and behaviour of counsel of the first accused in this matter.”

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