Justice Delayed is Justice denied

Jack Bloom MPL

Leader of the Legislature, Gauteng

Some of the saddest cases I come across as a public representative are aggrieved people who try to get justice through the courts.

It’s always a long, frustrating and emotionally draining experience.

Four years ago I was approached by a young woman whose father was admitted to the Leratong Hospital in July 2003. He died there, and the hospital mysteriously donated his body to the Medunsa medical school. The daughter got little explanation from the Gauteng Health Department, so I asked questions about it in the Gauteng Legislature. They admitted that a clerk had wrongly captured the address in the patient’s file, so the family were not contacted by the mortuary. As an unclaimed body it was given to the medical school.

I was contacted recently by a lawyer acting for the family who said the trial date was set down for the end of this month. The department’s reply to my questions was a key piece of evidence, but they claimed the matter had proscribed as a complaint had been laid too long after the event.

I remember the daughter in tears as she spoke about her family’s anguish at not being able to bury her father. Even if she wins a monetary settlement it will never compensate for this, nor for all the years trying to get justice.

The same applies to medical negligence cases, even though judges have been giving huge awards lately.

Prince Khanyi was brain damaged at birth at the Pholosong Hospital in December 1999. After a lawyer took his case on a contingency basis, his mother was awarded R9.25 million in damages in February 2011. The Gauteng premier’s office appealed, which would have meant more years of delay. But they filed the papers late, so the Sheriff of the court arrived at the premier’s office in January last year to attach furniture in lieu of payment. It was a real fiasco, and the appeal attempt was withdrawn only after bad publicity. Mrs Khanyi finally got the pay-out after 12 years of struggling to raise her severely handicapped child.

There are many cases that don’t get this far because of legal expense and other obstacles.

Thank goodness we have public-spirited people like Hugh Glenister. He spent millions on a campaign against the dissolution of the Scorpions anti-corruption unit. In March 2011 the Constitutional Court ruled that the Hawks replacement unit was not sufficiently independent to fight corruption effectively. But the legal battle continues as Parliament’s amendments fall short of giving us the independent corruption-fighting unit that we need.

Then there is the DA’s case to get the spy tapes that were used to drop corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma. After a long fight, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in March last year that they be handed over. But every legal technicality has been used to defy this court order. This is what Zuma’s lawyers did with all the corruption allegations against him that first surfaced more than 10 years ago.

Slow justice is better than perverted justice.

But the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” is true all too often in our inefficient and under-staffed courts.

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