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Zuma’s private prosecution of Downer, Maughan struck off the roll – but lawyers, supporters cry victory

Zuma’s private prosecution of Downer, Maughan struck off the roll – but lawyers, supporters cry victory
Illustrative image, from left: Advocate Billy Downer. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed) | Journalist Karyn Maughan. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Former president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution against his main prosecutor in his Arms Deal corruption case, Advocate Billy Downer, for allegedly leaking his doctor’s letters to News24 journalist Karyn Maughan, has been struck off the roll of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, but could be reinstated if his appeal in the Constitutional Court is successful.

This was Judge Nkosinathi Chili’s brief ruling on Wednesday at the court, where there was tight security around the precinct, with Boom Street, where the court is located, cordoned off and cars and pedestrians told to use alternative routes.

Various SAPS units were present, with plain-clothes and uniformed officers keeping an eye on the court precinct and uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party supporters gathered outside the court.

Zuma, Downer and Maughan were not in court but were represented by skeletal legal teams, with the heavyweights evidently missing. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Court denies Jacob Zuma’s second special bid to have Billy Downer removed from Arms Deal case

Zuma initially instituted a private prosecution in the high court against Downer on 5 September 2022, as well as against Maughan, a senior legal journalist who has reported extensively on Zuma’s case and other legal troubles over many years.

Judge Chili said he was ruling to strike the case off the court roll, pending Zuma’s appeal in the Constitutional Court against a court ruling that the private prosecution against Downer and Maughan was invalid.  

The judge ordered that Downer and Maughan must present themselves in court again at a future date, should Zuma’s appeal succeed.

The ruling was interpreted as a victory by both Zuma’s lawyers and hundreds of supporters outside court, as Downer and Maughan’s lawyers had, in their arguments, asked the court to strike the case off the roll, saying it had no prospect of success, while Zuma had argued that the case should be postponed until after his ConCourt had been heard. 

Judge Chili said the court found itself in a no-man’s-land since the Constitution had not foreseen a scenario in which a private prosecution would be appealed. He said striking the case off the roll would deny Zuma of a “fair trial” and limit his rights granted by the Constitution.

He also set aside the 2023 judgment by a full Bench of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg that the private prosecution against Downer and Maughan be declared invalid. The pair had also obtained a court interdict to enforce the first order.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zuma’s private prosecution bid against Ramaphosa on ice yet again

Zuma appealed against the two orders in the Supreme Court of Appeal, and will now take the matter to the apex court. If the ConCourt rules in Zuma’s favour, Downer and Maughan will have to appear in court as the accused in the private prosecution but, if not, they will not stand trial.

Members of the Downer and Maughan legal team, all of whom said they weren’t authorised to speak about the case, said the ruling merely delayed the matter until the Constitutional Court ruling on Zuma’s appeal, “and that decision could take months to come, even later this year as the Constitutional Court is busy with many other cases”.

Advocate Nqaba Buthelezi declined to discuss the judgment with the media, saying all enquiries should be sent to his senior, Mr Ntanga, whose phone went to voicemail.

Addressing supporters singing MK and pro-Zuma songs, some of the MK leaders said the courts were now seeing the light and ruling in favour of their leader. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Penny Philip says:

    This old man is delusional & needs to retire. What a waste of money .

  • Rae Earl says:

    A disgusting state of affairs. This man brought SA to its knees by handing it over to the Gupta family in return for support and money. They escaped with billions which could have been used to aid the poor and unemployed. Meantime Zuma lives in luxury in his Nkandla compound and plots another round of looting of the state coffers and aking over parliament. Voters beware!

  • Geoff Coles says:

    I am assuming Judge Chili is a local and doesn’t want to say the wrong thing!!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    If our Judiciary is not captured then Zuma would have lost this case anyway! He had a lucky escape by not continuing ….

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    “He also set aside the 2023 judgment by a full Bench of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg…”

    How does that work? He is also a High Court judge. Does it not require a higher court to set aside a judgment?

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