One of my clients mentioned a story to me during a consultation yesterday involving an advocate who, while being questioned by a Cape High Court judge, swore at the judge and stormed out of court. The story has been pretty widely reported in the local media and, at first glance, appears somewhat amusing. Below is a transcript of the exchange between Advocate Ballem and Judge Bozalek.
This story highlights something many lawyers take for granted: lawyers have a duty to the court and obligation to behave appropriately when before a magistrate or judge. A lawyer’s duty to the judicial system ranks higher than duties to clients and fellow practitioners. Lawyers should be respectful when before a magistrate or judge and outbursts like the one documented in the transcript are anything but. Its worth bearing in mind that this transcript is a snippet in time and we have little in the way of background information which could conceivably mitigate how Advocate Ballem behaved towards Judge Bozalek. That will, no doubt, be considered when the Cape Bar Council addresses Advocate Ballem’s outburst with him in due course. On the face of it, this would likely be regarded as contempt of court.
It will be interesting to see how this story develops. Judge Siraj Desai, a senior Western Cape High Court judge, has defended Advocate Ballem’s character and has described him as courteous and respectful in his dealings with Judge Desai. Judge Desai also pointed out the difficulty with this sort of behaviour:
On the other hand … such conduct undermines confidence in our courts and cannot be tolerated.
This story is a stark reminder to lawyers that as much as we may comment on how magistrates and judges handle cases, we still owe them a duty of respect and courtesy. Behaving otherwise undermines our legal system and the rule of law generally.