The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has reserved judgment in former president Jacob Zuma’s appeal application to overturn a high court ruling that set aside his release on medical parole last year.
Zuma’s medical parole
The Bloemfontein-based court on Monday heard marathon arguments from Zuma’s lawyers and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) as they squared off with the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Helen Suzman Foundation and AfriForum, over the decision by the then prisons boss, Arthur Fraser, to release him on medical parole in September.
Zuma was granted medical parole after having only served two months of his 15-month sentence imposed by the Constitutional Court for contempt of court.
The former president was released from jail even though the Medical Parole Advisory Board advised against his release after it found that he was stable and did not suffer from a terminal illness.
The DA, the Helen Suzman Foundation and AfriForum successfully challenged his release on parole at the Pretoria High Court, which ruled that Fraser’s decision was unlawful and irrational, and ordered Zuma to return to jail.
Zuma’s redacted medical records
The issue around the redacted parts of Zuma’s medical records came into sharp focus during arguments in the SCA on Monday.
Zuma’s lawyer, advocate Dali Mpofu, argued that the terminal illness or medical condition that the former president suffered from could not be disclosed in public or in the courts, in order to protect his privacy and human rights.
Mpofu argued that Zuma suffered from a chronic illness that qualified him to be released on medical parole.
He said his client’s medical records were redacted because he was a former head of state, and therefore the information was “naturally classified”.
Mpofu said this was done because the former president’s medical records contained information that is “most sensitive”.
“Common sense, in fact, more than common sense, should inform us that those parts that are redacted are the most sensitive and confidential [parts which] clearly make specific references to the terminal illness that Dr Mafa [Zuma’s doctor] says exists,” he said.
Fraser was well ‘within his powers’
Meanwhile, advocate Mantlheng Mphahlele, acting on behalf of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), argued that Fraser was well within his powers to release the former president on medical parole, even though the Medical Parole Advisory Board recommended against Zuma’s release.
Mphahlele argued that Fraser used his discretionary powers because the independent recommendations of the Medical Parole Advisory Board were not binding on him.
“The report by the Medical Parole Advisory Board cannot be the one that makes that determination as to whether the sentenced offender is terminally ill or not.
“That report is an additional one where it will make a recommendation in terms of whether medical parole should be granted or not.
“Therefore, it is not binding on the national commissioner as has been submitted by the respondents,” Mphahlele said.
Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe