A first-hand account of a “messy“ case

by Nolia Langa, legal intern.

When clients approach you for legal assistance, many times they present their version of the events in emotionally loaded ways, requiring you to sift through it, seeking out the most relevant facts – the facta probanda and the facta probantia. One is often faced with a messy and complex version.

The very first case I dealt with involved three parties. The facts of this case were presented to me intertwined, and came at different stages, piecemeal and through various mediums and people (apart from the parties), ranging from emails and telephone conversations, to direct consultations with the parties.

This was a great challenge for me, as I had to decipher what was relevant and put together all the information in a coherent way. The instruction from my supervisor was to do an analysis, using seven questions: “Find out what happened to whom, when, where, how and why, and who was involved.”

I used the questions to extract the relevant facts from the vast amount of information to build a coherent case. I explored various methods of analysis but focused on logic and chronology.

I needed to do three things: identify the facts of the case; group and arrange the facts of the case; and list the basic elements. After having done this, I was able to form a clearer indication about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, possible conflicts amongst the parties, and possible solutions to different scenarios.

The facts of the “M” case, are:

  • N is a minor female still at school, and the mother of Baby M, who was born as a result of an alleged rape.
  • L, the mother of N, is an undocumented major, which means that N too is undocumented and so is Baby M.
  • N lent her cellphone to a 20-year old male neighbour, O, who refused its return despite demands from both L and N.
  • O insisted on intercourse with N in exchange for her cell phone.
  • At first N refused, but later gave in as she needed the phone to access the internet to complete a school assignment.
  • 7 months later, L discovered that N was pregnant by O.
  • L reported the case to the SAPS.
  • When born, N and L decided to put Baby M up for adoption. As they were both undocumented, they could not sign off any rights pertaining to Baby M. In such cases the Children’s Court has to obtain the consent of the father of the baby. This fact upset L and N tremendously, as O and his family indicated that they wanted to raise the baby.
  • The issues of the case were the lack of documentation, an alleged rape, N’s age, which may constitute statutory rape, and the lack of consent of the father of the baby to an adoption.

Action taken

  • We found representation for Baby M’s family to apply for the right to put the child up for adoption;
  • Baby M’s family is currently receiving assistance from the S A Human Rights Commission to obtain their documentation;
  • N will pursue a charge of rape against O.

Conclusion

It is essential that you have a method that works for you, depending on your personality and what best assists you in analysing the information that has been given to you. We must always remember that we have a duty to act in the best interests of our client, balanced with our duty to uphold justice.

 

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