The dangers of defending dangerous men
While judges, magistrates and prosecutors are afforded protection by the state when they are threatened, defence lawyers must fend for themselves
“There but for the grace of God go I” is the motto one Cape Town criminal defence attorney lives by.
The man, who has appeared in numerous high-profile cases, told Times Select he and his colleagues who represent murderers, rapists and thieves are “very, very vulnerable”.
Often, public aggression is aimed not only at the accused but the men and women who represent them. However, these lawyers play a fundamental role in the criminal justice system.
The attorney was speaking after the release of a University of Cape Town research paper this week that looked at the surge of assassinations in South Africa, including contract killings within the justice system.
Researchers from the Centre for Criminology at the university as well as the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime recorded 46 cases of “criminal-justice actors” who were targeted in hits between 2000 and 2017.However, there may be more such cases because police do not keep statistics on assassinations. Researchers relied on a database which covers local, regional and national news, among other things.
The attorney, who asked not to be named, said while judges, magistrates and prosecutors were afforded protection by the state when they were threatened, defence lawyers often had to fend for themselves.
“The nature of our work is to be accessible. Someone could make an appointment with you but you don’t know who they are and it could be the person who is coming to kill you,” he said. “Compared to 10 years ago it has become a lot more dangerous.”
Researchers conducted interviews with attorneys, prosecutors and court personnel to gain insight into the impact of contract killings.
They highlighted the 2011 murder of Ian Jordaan, who represented slain gangster Lolly Jackson. He was allegedly forced to hand over R1.8-million he had been holding for Jackson. At the time, the Sowetan reported that Jordaan was “involved in wrapping up the estate of the strip club owner”, who was murdered in 2010. His body was found on his burnt-out bakkie in Krugersdorp.The report also made reference to Cape Town attorney Noorudien Hassan, who was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home in 2016.
Times Select sent an inquiry about the status of the investigation into Hassan’s death but Western Cape police failed to respond.
Hassan, who was well-liked and respected by his colleagues, had represented the likes of controversial businessman Jerome Booysen and 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield. At the time of his death he was a member of the legal team representing multi-millionaire Jason Rohde, who is on trial accused of murdering his wife Susan.“Criminal defence attorneys are known to adopt certain tactics to avoid being caught in the middle of criminal conflict,” the report found.
“One of those tactics is to make sure they don’t take on clients who are from rival gangs or criminal groups. Following the death of Hassan, fear among Cape Town attorneys for their lives is said to have escalated. One attorney said he had acquired a licensed firearm for self-defence.”
The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was often difficult to establish who was linked to the underworld. Attorneys were obliged to complete a Fica checklist on prospective clients, but often they had to rely on supplied information. When it became clear that a client had underworld links, things could get difficult.
“Members of the underworld have a very high expectation of you as a practitioner. And if you don’t deliver you might have some trouble,” he said.Another Cape Town criminal defence attorney, William Booth, admitted that there are dangers but said it was important not to get personally involved with clients in order to remain objective.
Booth said often the public wanted to know how lawyers lived with themselves, knowing they represented dangerous individuals.
But he said everyone was entitled to a lawyer and anyone could end up in court for something as trivial as an altercation with a neighbour about a wall being built.
“Are they not entitled to a lawyer? Of course they are. Our constitution provides that everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” said Booth, who is the chairman of the Law Society of South Africa’s criminal law committee.