Jacob Zuma’s health is once again the subject of much debate in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday morning, after it was revealed that the NPA’s medical team believes he is medically fit to stand trial and the state indicated that it had subpoenaed his medical records.
The former president’s legal team under the lead of Advocate Dali Mpofu failed to answer Judge Piet Koen’s questions about Zuma’s absence, insisting that Zuma has indicated the trial may proceed without in his absence.
This is in stark contrast to Zuma’s previous insistence that he must be allowed to physically attend his trial, even going as far as bringing an application to prevent the matter from being heard virtually, so that he may attend in person.
On Tuesday, Zuma failed to appear in court due to his undisclosed health problems. Mpofu informed Judge Koen that Zuma was not able to attend the trial because his doctors were still monitoring him.
Zuma ‘fit to stand trial’
Earlier, however, Advocate Wim Trengove, acting for the NPA, said state doctors had determined that Zuma was fit to stand trial, meaning his absence in court was, in effect, unlawful.
There is no legal precedent for an accused to instruct a court to proceed with a matter in his absence, when he is fit to appear. The state argued that his absence was sufficient basis to subpoena his medical records from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), which Trengrove said they had done a week ago, but the department had failed to hand them over.
No justification for Zuma’s no-show
NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga, speaking to journalists outside court, said there was no justification for Zuma’s absence in court.
“For every accused person who is absent in court, there must be a justifiable reason why that person is absent and it must be lawful that he is not present during the proceedings.
“In this case, there is no such justification that has been put forward, and as such, the attempt by the state to present those medical records by correctional services officials must talk to those issues,” Mhaga said.
Earlier this month, Zuma was controversially released on medical parole after serving a few weeks in jail for being in contempt of court.
He was incarcerated for 15 months by the Constitutional Court in June for refusing to obey orders that he appear and answer questions before the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
Corrections Head Arthur Fraser revealed that he granted medical parole to Zuma, against the recommendation of the medical parole advisory board. Fraser’s decision is currently facing a legal challenge of its own from multiple parties.
Court proceeds with Zuma’s special-plea
Mpofu argued that the state was trying to access Zuma’s medical records irregularly, but judge Koen decided to proceed to hear Zuma’s special-plea application to remove the NPA’s prosecutor, Billy Downer, from the corruption trial.
This special plea is in itself unprecedented, as it argues that neither Downer nor the NPA have legal standing to prosecute Zuma.
The former president and Thales are on trial over the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal. Zuma is facing multiple counts including fraud‚ corruption, money laundering and racketeering.
Thales, which is accused of bribing Zuma, faces four counts.