Friends can still be professional – Breytenbach lawyer
It is possible for a prosecutor and an advocate to maintain a professional relationship, even if they are good friends.
This was the argument by Advocate Wim Trengove SC, on behalf of suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, during Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing today.
Breytenbach, the head of the specialised commercial crimes unit in Pretoria, was suspended by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in April last year for allegedly having an unprofessional relationship with Advocate Mike Hellens SC.
Hellens, a member of the Johannesburg Bar Council, represents Kumba Iron Ore’s interests in the company’s dispute with politically connected mining firm Imperial Crown Trading (ICT).
During cross-examination of Ronnie Mendelow, the attorney for ICT, Trengove put it to him that Breytenbach and Hellens have known each other for many years.
“Advocates Breytenbach and Hellens have been colleagues of long standing. They have been adversaries in a large number of cases. Neither kept count.
“Over the years the got to know each other very well and are good friends. They still maintain a professional relationship and, on occasion, still act against one another as adversaries,” Trengove said.
Mendelow laid the complaint against Breytenbach, which led to her suspension by the NPA.
He complained that Hellens was intimately involved in the investigation against his client and that Breytenbach had turned a blind eye to a separate criminal complaint against Kumba.
Breytenbach was the prosecutor on the case in which Kumba accused ICT of copying their application for an iron ore mining right at Sishen in the Northern Cape.
Two years later, the department of mineral resources laid a complaint of fraud against Kumba for submitting their application early and having it post-dated.
Mendelow claims Breytenbach was influenced by Hellens in her pursuit of the complaint against ICT and should have dedicated the same energy and time to the case against Kumba.
It has been a tough morning for Mendelow who, at one point, accused Breytenbach of “planting” an affidavit in court papers filed in the Kumba/ICT dispute.
Trengove meticulously disproved this, resulting in Mendelow having to apologise for making the claim.
Trengove later quipped: “I’m not accusing you (Mendelow) of consistency.”