Durban - The gloves have come off in a legal fist-fight between a Durban advocate and his former clients, convicted Durban North drug dealers, with both sides agreeing that legal privilege no longer applies and exposing what are usually secret consultations between lawyers and clients.
This is apparent from a fresh round of papers filed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in an application to be heard this morning in which Tracy-Anne Pretorius, her boyfriend, Tyronne Hofland, and three others are seeking to have their convictions reviewed and set aside, based on what they allege to be the incompetence of the advocate who represented them at trial, JP van der Veen.
Ironically, if they succeed in their application, and their trial starts afresh, Van der Veen could end up being one of the main State witnesses against them.
The couple were convicted in the Durban Magistrate’s Court last year, along with Travis Bailey, Bonzile Chutshela and Senzele Dlezi, of dealing in dagga.
This followed a raid at Pretorius’s Durban North home, where 44kg of dagga worth an estimated R2.2 million was being cultivated in a laboratory in a concealed basement.
Facing a jail term, Pretorius and Hofland launched the review application, insisting Van der Veen had told them they would be acquitted on a technicality.
The advocate turned on his clients, making local legal history and disclosing that they had confessed their crimes to him.
He said they had refused to plead guilty and he could only conduct their defence “on the basis of the interpretation of the definitions contained in the Drugs Act”, which he believed was winnable on appeal.
Pretorius and Hofland “vehemently deny this”.
“We wish to make it clear that we are not attempting to escape the noose by advancing technical points. We fully appreciate that success on review means that the State may prosecute us afresh for the same crimes,” they say.
“Justice can only be served if this conviction is set aside and we are afforded an opportunity of competent defence in a retrial.”
One of the issues they raise is a claim by Van der Veen that they had told him Steve Cope of Cape Town had provided R25 000 for the dagga cultivation business and Cope would pay their legal fees.
Van der Veen said he flew to Cape Town to meet Cope, but, “while he confirmed what the accused had told me about the drug business”, he was not willing to pay.
The couple say they turned to Cope because he was a friend and a “mentor” in the IT business, but denied he had anything to do with any drug business. Cope himself has put up an affidavit confirming this.
But Van der Veen insists that his version is the truth.
In his latest affidavit, he has submitted a “camera shot” from his business networking site LinkedIn which he says proves it.
In response to a request by Cope to “stay in touch”, Van der Veen wrote on January 11 last year: “I have absolutely no idea why you wish to add me as a contact, in all honesty, I have only met you in your capacity as a criminal. And it appears there is no honour among thieves.”
He went on: “You may rest assured that we have no intention of mentioning you in our defence, my clients’ instructions are clear thereto.
“If it were up to me sir, I would have told the police about you weeks ago, but it’s not. Perhaps you should thank God that your alleged co-conspirators have more moral backbone than you.”
The couple also take issue with the fact that the advocate held himself out to be an expert in criminal law, submitting his Facebook page as proof of this, in which he states under work and education that he is an advocate who specialises in “only criminal law”.
Van der Veen says this is nonsense and that his restricted-access Facebook page was not a portrayal of him as a professional person or expert in law. In fact, he says, his profile picture “depicts me as an obese chicken, dressed as a soldier”.
The State is opposing the application.