Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Roses, Cheetahs and Gandalf – The SCA

On Monday Afro Leo had occasion to visit the Supreme Court of Appeal which is situated in a grand but compact building in Bloemfontein. Readers of this blog have asked for a piece on the experience.

Whilst it is overwhelmingly apparent why Bloemfontein is known as the “city of roses", especially at this time of year, Bloemfontein’s other symbol – the cheetah – was (fortunately) only represented on vehicle number plates, by the quick minds of those presenting and hearing argument, and by the way in which five judges play with an argument as if it were captive prey. The bench prod from all angles as they seek to test whether appeal submissions are indeed, alive. Arguments are generally allowed to run but always under a watchful eye. Quality time is of the essence in appeals. Occasionally arguments are dragged back by the tail, sometimes reluctantly and other times without fuss. Every now and again they are picked up, examined, turned around and upside down and then returned, but not always gently. It is in these forums that Counsel’s abilities are really tested and judges' ability to hone in on key aspects, remarkable.

Under RSA law an appeal in IP matters is normally made out on the papers and in the heads of argument, filed well in advance. The appeal is therefore relatively quick and judges play an active role. We have come to expect wise words from Bloemfontein - after all the creator of Gandalf the Grey was born there. Perhaps that is why Bloemfontein is also South Africa’s judicial capital?

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