By Marika Sboros
If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the HPCSA’s legal team and its star witness, dietitian Claire Strydom, 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.
The charge follows a complaint that Strydom lodged with the HPCSA for a single tweet Noakes made in February 2014. He opined that low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) foods were good first foods for infant weaning. Strydom gives the same recommendation. 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, giving a long list of reasons.
Medical heads below the parapets
Advocate Michael van der Nest SC told the committee that Noakes was “compelled” to seek experts abroad because local specialists were “reluctant” to give evidence for him. Thus, The reason, it turns out, is not that few South African doctors agree with Noakes’s views on nutrition. And those who do, have told me privately that don’t want to put their heads above the parapet and attract similar punitive attention from dietitians.
Van der Nest cited extensive local and international precedent, not just from courts, but 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. Van der Nest also pointed out that “at the highest court, the methodology of evidence by video link is uncontroversial”.
Mapholisa submitted a long list of reasons objecting to the application. Among the reasons were 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.
Claims of ‘witness tampering’
The rest of his reasons appeared based on “Murphy’s Law” – if something can go wrong, it will. Mapholisa claimed 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 off camera. Someone could “tamper” with them during toilet breaks. The technology might not work smoothly. Loss of connection could lead to interruptions and delays.
Click here to read: Noakes: ‘I’m not killing people. Here’s the real killer!’
Last but not least, Mapholisa said that Eskom’s “load shedding” (a euphemism for the public energy utility’s rolling power blackouts) might get in the way with and cause delays. He suggested, therefore, that this would prejudice the HPCSA’s case against Noakes.
Pretoria advocate Joan Adams is chairing the HPCSA Professional Conduct Committee hearing the charge against Noakes. After an adjournment, she gave her committee’s unanimous ruling in Noakes’ favour. She said that there was legal precedent for a video link. Justice, fairness and reasonableness demanded that Noakes could present evidence on his own behalf.
The HPCSA should not assume that whatever could go wrong would go wrong (Murphy’s Law). It also should not assume bad faith on the part of Noakes and international experts by worrying about witness “tampering”.
The next strike against the HPCSA’s case against Noakes came with Strydom’s evidence.
Mapholisa allowed her to present evidence as a slide presentation without making it available to Noakes’ legal team first. He claimed that he had only thought of allowing it “overnight”. Adams was unimpressed.
Factual versus expert testimony
The content of Strydom’s evidence immediately became problematic for Mapholisa, as she veered into expert instead of just factual testimony by attempting to interpret science and ethical rules. Van der Nest objected and 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 fulfil before Strydom could be an expert witness.
Mapholisa asked for a short adjournment to confer with his team. When he returned, he agreed that Strydom would be only a factual witness. However, Strydom continued trying to give expert testimony and an increasingly exasperated Van der Nest continued objecting.
Adams sustained his objections, adjourned the hearing for the day and told Mapholisa to get his “house in order”.
Strydom will continue her evidence today.
‘Nutrition on trial’
In an interview, Noakes told me that he welcomes the hearing as an international platform. He is no longer able to present LCHF evidence to the South African community on conventional nutrition platforms as he no longer receives invitations to talk at nutrition conferences.
He also said that he could have made the hearing go away. Noakes could have deregistered as a medical practitioner, as he gave up medical practice 15 years ago. This would have saved him significant financial and emotional costs. However, Noakes 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 optimum nutrition to prevent or reverse serious disease, he said. The hearing is not just about him giving “unconventional evidence and advice”. It is also about “why South Africans are becoming fatter and sicker”.
The hearing will highlight why doctors are diagnosing more people with diabetes. Noakes has posed a question he intends to answer in his own evidence to the hearing: “Is it the nutritional advice ‘experts’ give us?”
He also has no regrets about the tweets that started the case against him because the information he gave in it “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.