With the onset of the Lockdown, the Superior Courts in South Africa have put virtual Court hearings into much questioned practice. On numerous occasions over the past year, LFN experienced and observed that the holding of virtual hearings mostly benefitted parties who had the luxury of being legally represented by lawyers. It was noted that the unrepresented were sometimes unable to participate in these virtual hearings; some even ran out of money to maintain an often shaky data connection during those proceedings.
In a recent letter to the Supreme Court of Appeal, LFN President Reyno De Beer stated that irrespective that the legal teams of Minister Dlamini-Zuma and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (CASAC the admitted “Friend of the Court”)would have preferred to argue the Minister’s appeal against the Order of June last year virtually, LFN says that both the Constitution and the Superior Courts Act confirm their right to an actual court hearing.
“There is no longer any enforceable Disaster Management Act Regulation in place since 24 June 2020, and that standpoint is not negotiable for us” confirmed De Beer in a letter to the SCA; in response to the SCA’s Registrar earlier insistence to hold the scheduled appeal with the Minister of CoGTA via video screening and not in open court, as prescribed.
To bolster its argument, CASAC’s attorneys even hinted that the travel arrangements to shuttle its senior counsel Geoff Budlender to Bloemfontein might be prohibitive as he was acting “pro bono”. While Norton Rose Fulbright may wish to brush up on the logic as to whether “pro bono” should incur costs from the Advocate’s end and if so, if it then would still be a true “pro bono” legal representation or if it might perhaps qualify as a “3/4 sort of pro bono” or as a “pro bono minus some cash for fuel.” One wonders who pays for the stuff these guys are, figuratively speaking, smoking!
Notably, the politically rather well-connected CASAC published its latest Annual Report 2018/2019, indicating an operational budget in the region of R23 million. On the other hand, LFN solely survives on donations from its civilian supporters and still belief that they will find some way to reach Bloemfontein all the way from Pretoria; simply to confirm that SA still has a Constitution and that the Minister can’t influence the appeal via the very measures on appeal before the SCA.
President De Beer indicated that, should the SCA insist on a virtual hearing, LFN would immediately approach the High Court to declare the virtual holding of any Court as unconstitutional and invalid. “We are ready to be held for contempt, if the SCA so wishes.”
Meanwhile, our matter before the Constitutional Court is still pending and at a sensitive stage.
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