Mpofu faces a grilling, as court mulls its jurisdiction over Zuma prison sentence

Date: 06 Jul 2021

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court on Tuesday morning appeared unconvinced by Mpofu's arguments it had jurisdiction over Zuma's application.

The first leg of Jacob Zuma’s last-ditch bid to escape the 15-month prison term handed by the Constitutional Court appears to be facing an uphill battle just to get out of the starting blocks.

Judge Jerome Mnguni – presiding over the proceedings in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg – pressed Zuma’s legal team on the basic question of whether he even had the jurisdiction to interfere in a higher court’s order.

Last Tuesday, the Constitutional Court upheld the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture’s application to have Zuma held in contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months behind bars. This came after his refusal to appear before commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to answer questions, even after the country’s highest court ordered him to appear.

In a shock 11th-hour bid to dodge the inside of a prison cell, Zuma’s lawyers have now turned to the courts after not participating in any of the proceedings leading up to this point.

They have lodged an application to have the judgment rescinded by the Constitutional Court, which has been set down for Monday. In the meantime, though, they have also lodged an application to effectively stay Zuma’s detention in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. Judge Mguni began hearing arguments on the application Tuesday morning.

Advocate Dali Mpofu SC, for the former president, kicked things off and pointed to the fact that neither the police nor the Minister of Justice – who were listed as respondents – were opposing the application.

He read directly from a letter the State Attorney sent to the Constitutional Court this week on behalf of the police, that the police would not move on last week’s order until the pending litigation had been finalised or the apex court directed otherwise.

But Judge Mnguni repeatedly pressed Mpofu on the crucial question of whether he had jurisdiction to grant the order Zuma sought.

Mpofu on Tuesday relied in part on the fact that Zuma had also brought a challenge to the Criminal Procedure Act, insofar as it doesn’t provide for a trial for contempt of court proceedings and the fact this was also brought in the high court. He argued, as a result, that Mnguni had the jurisdiction to hear the application.

Mnguni asked Mpofu whether on receipt of the directions from the Constitutional Court setting the rescission application down for hearing, they had considered approaching the same court to stay the execution of the order. Mpofu argued one of the things that brought Zuma to this point was that he said he was unable to fund “unnecessary” litigation.

He argued that another court “might” have concurrent jurisdiction was in any case “irrelevant”.

The case continues.

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