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Advocate John Holland-Muter

Adv Holland Muter - JSC interviews - October 2019

Capacity: Advocate
Admitted as an advocate: 1998
Senior Counsel status: July 2019
Gender: Male
Ethnicity: White
Date of Birth: January 1961
Qualifications: B.Iuris (Pretoria) LLB (Unisa)

Key judgments:

Candidate bio:

Holland-Müter has had mixed results with appeals on some of the judgments he has handed down while completing 45 weeks acting at the Gauteng Division of the High Court.

In Bouttell v Road Accident Fund he had to decide about the money to be paid towards the plaintiff for his future loss of income following a motor vehicle accident.

In determining the plaintiff’s loss of income, he had to decide whether retirement annuity fund contributions made prior to the accident — and not required by his company as part of the plaintiff’s remuneration package — formed part of his income pre and post the accident.

Holland-Müter ruled it was not part of his earnings as it was contributed voluntarily and thus similar to an investment in a building society, rather than to an overall benefits package from the company.

“There is in my view a clear distinction between a so-called pension fund where the person makes a voluntary payment towards the fund and that of a pension fund in terms of an agreement of service where the employee is obligated to be a member of such fund,” Holland-Müter found.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the High Court, concluding that “provisions for the future, such as an investment cannot be taken into account when calculating future loss of earnings for the purpose of provisions of the RAF Act.”

In Jenni Button (Pty) Ltd v Hyprop Investments Limited the applicant – a high-end fashion boutique – brought an urgent application against the alleged spoliation of its shopping mall premises by the respondent, requesting immediate restoration of access to the property.

The respondent had warned the applicant that it had an eviction order and then, on the same day, had forced the locks of the applicant’s premises and removed its trading stock. The respondent argued that the applicant had ‘abandoned’ the property. It also argued that the applicant delayed unreasonably in bringing the application and that its failure to respond to an email (threatening eviction) amounted to ‘consent’.

Holland-Müter rejected both of the respondent’s arguments, holding that “[t]he only inference from the conduct of the respondent was that it self-helped it to “restore” possession of the premises. This is in my view nothing else but spoliation.” He ordered the premises be restored, and the respondent be given unrestricted access.

The judgment was, however, overturned on appeal with a full Bench of the Gauteng Division of the High Court finding that “a serious and bona fide doubt existed whether Jenni Button (Pty) Ltd had the necessary locus standi to launch the spoliation proceedings” and whether it had proved it was “the possessor of the premises in terms of a contractual right granted to it”.

“The Court a quo ought to have approached the dispute between the parties on this basis, but the learned Judge did not do so. In the light of the conflicting versions relating to what the actual terms of any agreement were between the parties, and in fact who were the parties to any such agreement… the Applicant in the Court a quo did not prove on the balance of probabilities that it had possession of the particular premises. The application ought therefore not to have been granted.”

Holland-Muter obtained a B.Juris (1978) from the University of Pretoria and an LLB from the University of South Africa (1993). He has previously worked as a prosecutor, magistrate and law lecturer at Justice College. He joined the Pretoria Bar in 1998 and, since 2015, has acted for a total of 79 weeks at the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa.

He is a member of the Christian Lawyers Association and a parish council member of the Dutch Reformed Church in Villieria.

April 2023 Interview

Advocate John Holland-Muter’s interview was successful. The JSC has recommended him for appointment to the Gauteng Division of the High Court

October 2022 Interview 

October 2022 JSC interview of Adv John Holland-Müter SC for a position on the Gauteng Division of the High Court. Adv Holland-Müter’s application was unsuccessful.

April 2022 Interview 

October 2021 Interview 

October 2021 Interview synopsis

Pretoria advocate John Holland-Müter returns to the JSC for a second time after an unsuccessful run in October 2019, when he sought permanent appointment as a judge of the Gauteng High Court.

JSC chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, took Holland-Muter through his extensive experience as an advocate, and asked whether he had any reported judgments? “I have about five reported in the SA Law Reports and Butterworths Law Reports” Holland-Muter replied.

Asked by Judge Mlambo what has improvement since he came before the JSC in 2019, Holland-Muter explained that he has gained more confidence and also decreased the amount of time to deliver judgment, “as an old-school person and technology-illiterate, I’ve also had to quickly adapt to using technology for virtual hearings, which I am now able to do.”

Zondo came back to deal with an awkward question about Holland-Muter’s age (65 years), asking “isn’t that the time that most people would be leaving the judiciary, and you are coming in? We as a commission have to ask whether it’s fair for someone coming at the tail end of their working career and earning the same benefits as those who have worked for much longer?”. Holland-Muter replied “I hear what you say, ACJ, but I am willing to take reduced benefits and have made provision for that. I still have a lot of experience to offer the Bench”.

Advocate John Holland-Muter SC was not recommended for appointment.

October 2019 Interview 

October 2019 Interview Synopsis

Advocate John Holland-Mutter remembers the mid-1980s, when magistrates were still required to receive income tax returns and performs all the functions of government agencies who did not have regional offices. He was a magistrate then. Asked by the Chief Justice why it has taken him this long to apply for permanent judicial office, he confessed that he needed some experience as a judge.

Despite his thick Afrikaans accent, Adv Holland-Mutter’s name is ‘John’ and not ‘Johan’, as he corrected Judge President Mlambo in a light moment in the interview. They then dived into his experience as an acting judge, including how was actively involved in dealing with the huge backlog of road accident claims

Members of Parliament followed, with Commissioner Jomo Nyambi probing a gap in Adv Holland-Mutter’s CV from 1979 to 1980, which he explained was when he went through compulsory military service of two years. Commissioner Bulelani Magwanishe commended Adv Holland-Mutter’s engagements with his attorneys to reallocate work from him to junior advocates he was mentoring, particularly women and black advocates. Mr Magwanishe asked how he managed to do this, and Adv Holland-Mutter explained that he offered fee-sharing arrangements, junior briefs and pupillage training. Probed for names of pupils, he rattled off a list of black and female junior advocates, which impressed Commissioner Dali Mpofu SC.

The rest of Adv Holland-Mutter’s interview went off without much of hitch. He was interrogated on two legal questions, which relate to the formal criteria for  appointment by Commissioners China Dodovu and Lindi Nkosi-Thomas SC. The first, was his understanding of the application of the doctrine of common purpose, and the second, was his technical competence, seeing as he has so few reported judgments. He deftly dealt with both questions, which seem to satisfy the commissioners.

Commissioner Narend Singh commended Adv Holland-Mutter’s service in dealing with the road accident claim backlog, and asked for his comment on the abuses of the RAF system by attorneys; whether there is collusive conduct? Adv Holland-Mutter explained that he had not encountered collusive conduct but has certainly come across widespread abuse of Contingency Fee agreements, which he said was a startling 95% of the time. He therefore called for this abuse to be stamped out, which response was met with approving faces across the room.

However, Commissioner Fourie, a practicing attorney did not seem share this approval and probed Adv Holland-Mutter on this issue. In a debate that took up the last seven minutes of the interview, the two men settled on an agreement to disagree.

While Advocate John Holland-Mutter’s interview was generally positive, he was not recommended for appointment.