Seth Nthai’s career has taken a hit after the Constitutional Court denied his application to appeal a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decision that overturned his readmission to the Bar.
Nthai’s application was denied with costs by the Supreme Court.
The court dismissed Nthai’s application for leave to appeal because it “does not engage with the court’s jurisdiction.”
The SCA stripped Nthai of the title of advocate last year.
In a unanimous ruling, the SCA said:
Advocates are required to be of complete honesty, reliability and integrity. The need for absolute honesty and integrity applies both in relation to the duties owed to their clients and the courts.
“The profession has strict ethical rules to prevent malfeasance. As officers of the court, advocates serve a necessary role in the proper administration of justice. Given the unique position that they occupy, the profession has strict ethical rules.”
The judgment’s author, Judge Nathan Ponnan, overturned the Limpopo High Court’s ruling that Nthai’s attempt to solicit an R5 million bribe from Italian companies involved in a mining rights dispute with the South African government over a decade ago could only be explained by his depression and anxiety.
The judge ruled that there was insufficient psychiatric evidence to support this conclusion.
Nthai was representing the government at the time in an R2.2 billion lawsuit against a group of Italian companies that claimed their mining rights had been expropriated.
They first met in their respective Johannesburg homes, but Nthai later travelled to Italy.
He subsequently attempted to solicit a R5 million bribe to be paid into his foreign bank account.
In return, he undertook to ensure that the government would agree to settle the dispute on the basis that each party would pay its own costs, thus potentially saving the claimants millions of rands at the expense of his client, the government.
Nthai was admitted as an advocate on 19 January 1988.
According to News24, Nthai argued in his application to the Constitutional Court that the SCA failed to apply the correct test for readmission.
He claimed that the SCA “selectively relied” on parts of his evidence while “completely ignoring uncontested evidence I presented that the trip to Italy had nothing to do with the ‘express purpose of nailing down an agreement,’ but was the result of an invitation extended to me by [businessman Mario] Marcenaro at our first meeting.”
He also claimed that the court overlooked the fact that the evidence he presented was uncontested by any of the parties.
The SCA condemned and found me guilty of a crime, effectively transforming the readmission proceedings into an unfair criminal trial, highlighting the SCA’s failure to fully and properly appreciate the nature of the proceedings, issues, and test in the matter before it.
“There was clearly an initial degree of confusion on the part of the SCA, which is also manifested in the judgment’s harsh words and unfair criticism, which it also directed at the high court and my legal representatives.”