By Marika Sboros
If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the HPCSA’s legal team and its star witness, dietitian Claire Styrdom, were Trojan horses for Prof Tim Noakes. The first day of the HPCSA’s hearing against Noakes in Cape Town in November 2015 could not have gone better for him if he had scripted it that way.
The charge follows a complaint Strydom lodged with the HPCSA for a single tweet Noakes made in February 2014. It it, he opined that low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) foods were good first foods for infant weaning. Here’s what went down on the first day:
First off, HPCSA advocate Meshak Mapholisa tried and failed to prevent an application, which Noakes’s legal team brought, to present evidence by a Canadian medical specialist via video link. The HPCSA had earlier refused a written request from the defence, with a long list of reasons.
Advocate Michael van der Nest SC told the committee that South African specialists were “reluctant” to give evidence for him. Thus, Noakes was “compelled” to seek experts abroad. (The reason, it turns out, is not that there are no South African doctors who agree with Noakes’s views on nutrition. Those that do have told me privately that they prefer to keep under the radar so as not to attract similar punitive attention from dietitians.) Van der Nest cited extensive local and international precedent, not just from courts, but similar medical tribunals that routinely allowed video links.
He said that justice and fairness demanded that Noakes be allowed to present evidence in his favour via video link if it were not possible for the witness to appear in person. He told Pretoria advocate Joan Adams, chair of the Professional Conduct Committee that is hearing the charge against Noakes, that “at the highest court, the methodology of evidence by video link is uncontroversial”.
Mapholisa said that the refusal should stand and submitted a long list of reasons. These included that the HPCSA’s regulations required that witnesses be physically present, the HPCSA had always done it that way and this was the first time it had received such an application.
Click here to read: Noakes: ‘I’m not killing people. Here’s the real killer!’
He went on to say that cross examination would be difficult via video link. For example, the witnesses’ “demeanour” – body language, facial expressions, etc – would not always be clear. Witnesses could receive coaching out of camera, and someone could “tamper” with them during toilet breaks. As well, the technology might not work smoothly. Loss of connection could lead to interruptions and delays. Thus, Mapholisa suggested that this would prejudice the HPCSA’s case against Noakes.
Last but not least, Mapholisa said that Eskom’s “load shedding” might get in the way with power outages that could cause delays.
Pretoria advocate Joan Adams is chairing the HPCSA Professional Conduct Committee. After an adjournment, she ruled that there was legal precedent for video link. Justice, fairness and reasonableness demanded that Noakes could present evidence on his own behalf.
She said that HPCSA should not assume that whatever could go wrong would go wrong. It also should not assume bad faith on the part of Noakes and any international experts – a reference to suggestions of tampering. She said that her Committee had unanimously agreed that Canadian medical professor Stephen Cunnane, of Sherbrook University could give evidence for Noakes via video link.
The next strike against the HPCSA’s case against Noakes came with Strydom’s evidence.
Mapholisa allowed Strydom to present her evidence as a slide presentation without making it available to Noakes’ legal team. When Adams questioned that, Mapholisa explained that he had only thought of this “overnight”. Adams wasn’t impressed.
The content of Strydom’s evidence immediately became problematic for Mapholisa, when she began giving expert instead of just factual testimony. Strydom started interpreting science and ethical rules. Van der Nest pointed out this was beyond her area of expertise.
Both Mapholisa and Strydom appeared to have difficulty understanding the difference between factual and expert testimony. When Adams pointed this out, Mapholisa insisted that she could do both. Adams explained the legal requirements Mapholisa would have to fulfill before he could present Strydom as an expert witness.
Mapholisa asked for a short adjournment to confer with his legal team. When he returned, he said Strydom would be only a factual witness. Strydom continued to attempt to give expert testimony. Not surprisingly, an increasingly exasperated Van der Nest objected. Adams agreed and adjourned the hearing for the day. She told Mapholisa to get his “house in order”.
Strydom will continue her evidence today.
In an interview, Noakes told me that he welcomes the hearing in part because he is no longer able to present LCHF evidence to the South African community on conventional nutrition platforms. Various organisations have declined to invite him to talk at nutrition conferences .
He also said that he could have made the hearing go away. He could simply have deregistered from the HPCSA as a medical practitioner, as he gave medical practice 15 years ago. This would have saved him significant financial and emotional costs. However, Noakes said that he believes that the hearing is “an important event in the history of nutrition in SA”.
South Africans have a right to hear the truth about just what constitutes optimum nutrition to prevent or reverse serious disease, he said.
Noakes has also said that the hearing is “not just about me giving unconventional evidence and advice”. It is about why South Africans are becoming fatter and sicker.
The hearing is also about why doctors are diagnosing more people with diabetes.
“Is it the nutritional advice ‘experts’ give us?” he asked. Noakes said that he would address that issue in his own testimony. He also said that he has no regrets about the tweets that started the case against him because the information he gave is correct. It isn’t even “unconventional” in the scientific sense, because it is evidence-based, he said
Noakes has consistently maintained that obesity and diabetes are not complex diseases, as medical experts like to make out.
“These are simple diseases, and the biology and body chemistry behind them are simple enough,” he said.
The evidence is increasingly showing that diabetes, in particular, does not have to be a chronic, progressive descent into ill health, requiring medication to prevent limb loss and declining mental function, as the orthodox paradigm currently suggests. If you doubt it, just ask Canadian physician and LCHF expert, Dr Jay Wortman, said Noakes.
Click here to read: DIABETES CAN BE CURED! A DOCTOR’S PERSONAL JOURNEY
The hearing resumes today.