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Judge Pieter Meyer

Profile:

Current position: Judge at the Gauteng Division of the High Court

Appointed: 2007

Candidate Bio:

A judge of the High Court in South Gauteng since 2007, Meyer has adjudicated cases that have ranged from the questionable awarding of government tenders to applications requiring mining companies to clean up their pollution — and is certainly partial to the odd pun to add a chortle to judgments.

When a co-accused convicted of fraud for selling fake rhino horns appealed his six year sentence Meyer noted that the appellant “found himself in the horns of a dilemma”: admitting that he knew the horns were fake exposed him to the fraud conviction, while admitting otherwise may have opened the door for a guilty finding on the greater charge of dealing in rhino horn. Writing in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), where he acted from 2013 onwards, Meyer dismissed the appeal.

Meyer is sensitive to the delivery of quick justice. When adjudicating an application brought by Fidelity Security Services to review the Mogale City Municipality’s decision to disqualify it from a security tender process before awarding it to Mafoko Security Patrols, he found that procedural irregularities were outweighed by the need to avoid injustice. He set aside the municipality’s initial decision within two weeks of hearing the matter.

In 2018, opposition party, the Democratic Alliance sought to review and set aside decisions by the presidency and the state attorney’s office to seek private representation — paid for with taxpayers money — for disgraced former president Jacob Zuma’s criminal cases.

Meyer found the presidency could not fund Zuma’s legal costs but that the svengali-of-state-capture still had the constitutional right to a fair trial, which included the right to have a legal practitioner assigned to him by the state at the state expense, as is the case with all other accused persons in South Africa.

The charges against Zuma had nothing to do with his official functions and so fell foul of Section 3 of the State Attorney Act regarding the procurement of private legal representations, according to Meyer. The impugned decisions, therefore, amounted to a breach of the principle of legality, were unconstitutional and fall to be set aside. They also fell to be reviewed and set aside in terms of PAJA. Finally, Meyer J held that the State Attorney was to render an account of all private legal costs incurred by Mr. Zuma, and take the necessary steps to recover such costs.

Meyer has acted at the SCA from April – November 2013, October 2014 – May 2015 and October – November 2017.

In 2013 Meyer, for a full SCA Bench, came down hard on corporate polluters: After selling an operation and land in the Free State in 2008, mining company Harmony Gold had argued that it was not beholden by a 2005 directive from the department of mineral affairs that it, and four other companies, manage, collect, treat and dispose of underground water constituting a pollution risk that had arisen from their operations. Meyer ruled that Harmony was in fact responsible and that its argument would result in the “absurdity” of corporate polluters walking away form the pollution they caused, with impunity.

Asked by ANC MP and JSC commissioner Thoko Didiza about the significance of the judgment during his unsuccessful 2018 interview for an SCA spot, Meyer said it was “considered very important” because “those that pollute cannot run away… The bottom line of the judgment is that he who participated in the pollution must pay.”

During an unsuccessful 2016 interview for a position at the appellate court Meyer was quizzed on themes ranging from his views on transformation and the often brusque court manner to the separation of powers doctrine.

On the last theme, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng posed an interesting question: what would happen if a judge was deemed to be so grossly incompetent that he was referred to parliament for impeachment, but the national legislature was unable to establish the two-thirds majority to kick him off the Bench — could a court order be sought to impeach the judge?

“No it can’t happen,” responded Meyer after much thinking out loud, noting that “there will be a contravention of the separation of powers” doctrine since only parliament had such powers.

Born in December 1960, Meyer obtained a BA degree form the University of Stellenbosch, where he also completed his LLB 1983. In 1986 he became an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar and was awarded silk in 2004.

April 2019 Interview:

April 2019 Interview Synopsis:

Meyer was another serial interviewee before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) whose time in the hot-seat did not last very long — 24 minutes. The JSC has transcripts of previous interviews with candidates and usually — although not all the time — attempts to not repeat themes and topics previously traversed.

Or, they may just be fed-up with the long day, have their thoughts on dinner, or are quickly convinced of the incompetence or unsuitability of the candidate in front of them, so as to call early time on the quizzing.

Meyer told the commission that having acted for a total of 18 months at the SCA, and he sometimes struggled to meet the three months deadline for reserved judgments, having to cancel holidays and work on weekends to do so.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told him that the Constitutional Court was also struggling.

Meyer said he was ready to join the SCA permanently because his judgments had been “well received”, “well researched” and he had only been overturned once as a judge: “I may have been perhaps a little too creative,” he told the commission.

He said he had assisted in the transformation of the legal fraternity by mentoring juniors while at the Bar and was “surprised” that the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) had, in its submissions to the commission, been critical of his inability to develop the law.

Meyer pointed to the Harmony Gold judgment he had handed down while acting at the SCA which found that mining companies were responsible to rehabilitate the historical pollution they had caused to land, even if they had shut down operations there or sold on.

IFP member of parliament Narend Singh said he had found the judgment “innovative and quite bold” to which Meyer responded, “one must invariably be innovative to write a judgment that is correct.”

 

April 2018 Interview:

April 2018 Interview Synopsis:

Despite the General Council of the Bar feeling that Gauteng High Court judge Pieter Meyer had a “paucity” of substantive judgments which developed the country’s jurisprudence, he has broken the ground in some instances — and ensured that that ground remained unpolluted in one case.

ANC MP Thoko Didiza picked up on Meyer’s 2013 ruling, for a full Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) Bench, which found that mining companies were still liable to rehabilitate land they had polluted while operating there — even if they no longer owned the land.

Didiza asked Meyer about the significance of the judgment and he responded that it was “considered very important” because “those that pollute cannot run away… The bottom line of the judgment is that he who participated in the pollution must pay.”

Meyer agreed with Didiza’s suggestion that such principles could be used to redefine the Mining Charter that stipulates the financial, social, labour and ecological obligations of mining companies to ensure they retain their mining licenses.

He told the IFP’s Narend Singh that the five reserved judgments he had cited when his application form was completed last year had been handed down. Meyer explained his tardiness down to contracting pneumonia in the middle of last year which led to a “snowball effect” to outstanding work.

Meyer, like most pale males who have acted at the SCA, appears to have found it collegial and welcoming. He assured the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that he believed “absolutely in transformation” and that he would understand the transformative imperatives that may lead to him not being appointed: “The only reason I make myself available is in case there is a slot for me,” said Meyer.

He emphasised several times how “shocking” it was that the numbers around transformation suggested it was happening at a snail’s pace.

To underline his credentials, Meyer pointed to a recent judgment he handed down last month, in the matter of J Chowan v Associated Motor Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Others, which led to Eskom board member Mark Lamberti resigning over discriminatory comments when he referred to a former employee as “female employment-equity”.

Commissioner Mavuso Notyesi asked Meyer whether he had opportunity to deal with matters relating to the interpretation of customary law and what is to be done to ensure it does not remain the uglier step-son of South Africa’s legal system.

Meyer said that his experience of customary law had been “very limited to funerals” — where bodies are to be buried et cetera — but felt it was vital to develop since it was “very important” to millions of South Africans.

April 2016 Interview:

April 2016 Interview Synopsis:

Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema’s questions at the Judicial Service Commission are often delivered in bruising tone – but his questions are usually very smart and on point.

Departing from his regular script to reference last week’s Constitutional Court ruling that President Jacob Zuma had acted in breach of the Constitution on the Public Protector’s Nkandla report, he quizzed Meyer on the court environment — especially at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA)  — being “intimidating” for people.

“I want to treat all people with respect, as I want to be treated myself,” Meyer eventually stated after a few salvoes from Malema. Meyer went on to say that he ran his court in a manner that recognised the “dignity” of litigants and “allowed  their positions to be properly ventilated”.

But “Juju” had the bit between his teeth and, describing the SCA’s sometimes brusque approach to hearing arguments as “apartheid-style” asked Meyer what he would do to transform this if he were appointed.

Meyer could only keep echoing that he wanted to “keep on ensuring that people, when they walk out of court, they are satisfied that they have had their day in court”.

Malema then reverted to his anti-Zuma script before SCA President Lex Mpati posed a few questions to Meyer that sought to clarify why the appellate court so often takes a no-nonsense approach to oral arguments. Mpati raised, amongst others, the issue of practise notes that allowed litigants’ counsel to state the terrain of their arguments for expediency.

Meyer agreed that “counsel must stick to the arguments otherwise it is not fair to the other side” and that it assisted the court in getting through the voluminous case load it deals with.

Commissioner Thoko Didiza  quizzed Meyer on his views on transformation of the judiciary which he said “was not finished… its an ongoing process”.

Meyer was also tested on the separation of powers and what mechanisms were in place to ensure judges were accountable. To this  he responded that judges were accountable through their judgments, to the office of the chief justice and the commission itself.

Then Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng posed an interesting question: what would happen if a judge was deemed to be so grossly incompetent that he was referred to parliament for impeachment, but the national legislature was unable to establish the two-thirds majority to kick him off the Bench — could a court order be sought to impeach the judge?

“No it can’t happen,” responded Meyer after much thinking out loud, noting that “there will be a contravention of the separation of powers” doctrine since only parliament had such powers.

A judge of the High Court in South Gauteng since 2007, Meyer has adjudicated cases that have ranged from the questionable awarding of government tenders to applications requiring mining companies to clean up their pollution — and is certainly partial to the odd pun to add a chortle to judgments.

When a co-accused convicted of fraud for selling fake rhino horns appealed his six year sentence Meyer noted that the appellant “found himself in the horns of a dilemma”: admitting that he knew the horns were fake exposed him to the fraud conviction, while admitting otherwise may have opened the door for a guilty finding on the greater charge of dealing in rhino horn. Writing in the Supreme Court of Appeal, where he acted last year, Meyer dismissed the appeal.

Meyer is sensitive to the delivery of quick justice. When adjudicating an application brought by Fidelity Security Services to review the Mogale City Municipality’s decision to disqualify it from a security tender process before awarding it to Mafoko Security Patrols, he found that procedural irregularities were outweighed by the need to avoid injustice. He set aside the municipality’s initial decision.

In 2013 Meyer, for a full Bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal, came down hard on corporate polluters:

After selling an operation and land in the Free State in 2008, mining company Harmony Gold had argued that it was not beholden by a 2005 directive from the department of mineral affairs that it, and four other companies, manage, collect, treat and dispose of underground water constituting a pollution risk that had arisen from their operations. Meyer ruled that Harmony was in fact responsible and that its argument would result in the “absurdity” of corporate polluters walking away form the pollution they caused, with impunity.

Meyer has several SCA acting stints under his belt but was unsuccessful when applying for a permanent position on that Bench in 2014.

Meyer was also not nominated for appointment.

Meyer has several SCA acting stints under his belt but was unsuccessful when applying for a permanent position on that Bench in 2014.