A year ago, North Gauteng High Court Judge Frans Legodi withdrew his candidacy before being interviewed for a position at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
He had previously acted at the appellate division from 2013-2014. In April 2015, Legodi had also made himself available for the position of judge president of the Limpopo High Court.
During that interview he endured a series of questions about his resignation from the Arms Procurement Inquiry in 2013. The inquiry had been set up to investigate corruption in the South African government’s multi-billion arms deal concluded in the late nineties.
A commissioner in the inquiry, Legodi resigned on the eve of the public hearings, following the resignation, a few months earlier, of the commission’s senior researcher, Mokgale Moabi. In his resignation letter Moabi had cited a “second agenda” by inquiry chairperson, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge, Willie Seriti – the commission itself turned out to be a whitewash according to investigative journalists and whistleblowers involved in exposing arms deal corruption.
During the 2015 JSC interview Legodi refused to declare his reasons for resigning — describing them as “personal” — or the nature of his meeting with President Jacob Zuma on the eve of his resignation announcement.
Last year Legodi found that the National Prosecuting Authority’s former deputy national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, and special director of public prosecutions, Lawrence Mrwebi, were not “fit and proper” persons to remain on the roll of admitted advocates.
Both are considered close to President Jacob Zuma and Legodi found that in failing to prosecute former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli the duo not only brought “the prosecuting authority and the legal profession into disrepute, but have also brought the good office of the President of the Republic of South Africa into disrepute”.
Noting that Mdluli had “inappropriately suggested that he was capable of assisting” Zuma in winning the ANC presidency in 2012 if charges against him (Mdluli) were dropped, Legodi said: “It is this kind of behaviour that diminishes the image of our country and its institutions which are meant to be impartial, independent and transparent in the exercise of their legislative public powers.”
Last year Legodi, writing for a full high court Bench, set aside a decision to ban the local trade of rhino horns by the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs. The challenge to the moratorium had been brought by a local rhino breeder.
Legodi found that while the decision itself was rational, there had been insufficient consultation by the minister before the moratorium’s implementation.
In some judgments Legodi has revealed views and rationale which can be euphemistically described as strange. In the 2016 case of Phetla & Another v S, two men, both black males, found guilty of robbery with aggravating circumstances were appealing their conviction and sentencing. The appeal turned on the reliability of the evidence of the testifying witness, a white female who was attacked at her home.
In reaching his conclusion to uphold the appeal, Legodi noted “that evidence of identification based upon witness’ recollections of person’s appearance is dangerously unreliable unless approached with due caution”.
“[S]ome people look distinctive to one witness and not another. Thus to a person of one race, everyone belonging to another race, tends to look alike… Assuming that this statement holds true, the present case should then be found to be falling squarely under such a factor for consideration,” Legodi wrote. This argument led him to approach the victim’s evidence with the “caution” which “the trial court in my view, failed to do” and uphold the appeal.
In 2011 he was withering in overturning a magistrates court decision to deny bail to a family alleged to have run a child pornography syndicate, suggesting that the lower court had based its decision on public opinion and the weight of the alleged crime, rather than whether the eight applicants had proved exceptional circumstances. He granted each R15 000 bail.
Legodi holds a BProc from the University of the North and, early in his career, worked his way up from a court clerk to interpreter and then prosecutor. He worked as an attorney before his 2004 appointment to the Gauteng High Court sitting in Pretoria. Legodi has acted in the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2013 and 2014. Currently chairperson of the Magistrate’s Commission and the Military Appeal Court, he has occupied several administrative positions, including serving as chairperson of the Mpumalanga Parks Board.
The prospective judge president of the recently created Mpumalanga division of the high court speaks at such a glacial pace that icebergs are probably disappearing at a faster rate.
A considered man who has spent considerable time in Mpumalanga — including as a circuit court judge in the rural areas for many years — which he told the Judicial Service Commission would stand him in good stead to lead the division. Legodi said he understood the culture and the custom of the province.
According to Legodi, his vision for the court started with the norms and standards for judges because it would guide the division in accomplishing “effective, efficient and expeditious finalisation of matters… [so as] to bring justice to the people”.
He said he would also increase the circuit courts in the province to increase access to justice and that as, a “starting point”, a pool of female judges had been created with a “number of women coming from Mpumalanga who have been given an opportunity to act” in the division already.
Legodi, who appeared proud of the relationship he had built with communities in Mpumalanga as a judge, stressed the importance of peopling the Bench with judges from the province.
Some of the challenges he highlighted included finding court buildings in Middelburg and that he had “checked to identify [potential] land” for use.
Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo on his solution to the large number of awaiting trial prisoners in the province who were “spending months, if not years” locked up, Legodi said he would “ensure would be finalised as soon as possible”. He added that if the situation continued he would approach the justice department to ensure temporary appointments were made to clear the backlog.
Legodi was quizzed on a judgment he handed down, which allowed for the eviction of an ill 76-year-old man. It was later overturned by the Constitutional Court which was critical of his failure to apply the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act in the matter. He said “we learn on a daily basis, we make mistakes” and that whenever a similar matter comes before him, he has “become more proactive”.