Court finds Department funded malicious and vexatious litigation
The business organisation Sakeliga has assisted a North West-farmer in recovering legal costs incurred by averting a malicious claim by disgruntled farmworkers. Sakeliga had the Department of Land Reform and Rural development pay for costs incurred by Mr. Carel Strydom, as the Department funded and incited the baseless legal claim.
According to Armand Greyling, Law- and policy analyst at Sakeliga, the organisation was approached to help recover costs. Where, traditionally, costs would be recovered from the workers, as chief applicants in the matter, the Department’s attorneys were chastised by the court for failing to properly vet the workers’ claim before letting it proceed. It is often the case that farmers, like Strydom, are successful in their legal action, but fail to recover their costs due to the applicants’ poverty and lack of property. This financial burden could be devastating to many farmers, even though they had done nothing wrong.
Though the court had not, as of yet, made an explicit cost order against the Department, Sakeliga was successful in persuading the Department to pay regardless. Greyling believes that this, no doubt, represents the Department acknowledging its own culpability in the matter.
Greyling adds that he is overjoyed that the Department has sought to make amends for its earlier irresponsible behaviour.
“This situation is quite unique – and indicates the Department itself has had to admit that it was at fault in funding this case. It had the duty to exercise due diligence in funding and advising these workers but failed to do so. In the final instance, all it did was to place the applicants – who had no claim to start with – in a position to do serious financial harm to an innocent farmer. The Department, in terms of the applicable legislation, had no case against Mr Strydom.”
Greyling believes this case will be a boon for other farmers.
“Farmers in similar situations will be able to use this case as precedent against the department in their own claims. It is only proper and just that, after all the unnecessary suffering, they should be able to recover their legal costs from the state.”