Unclear why public barred from court

2012-08-15 21:23
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Johannesburg - It was unclear on Wednesday whether the barring of the public from the Krugersdorp Magistrate's Court this week happened under a court order.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it had been unable to contact the prosecutor to explain why two men accused of killing a Muslim man had appeared without a public audience on Monday.

"We are still following up on the matter," NPA spokesperson Phindile Louw said on Wednesday.

The men face charges of murder and assault for allegedly attacking Muhammad Fayaaz Kazi at a fast-food outlet in Magaliesburg.

They made fun of Kazi's beard, allegedly insulted him with racial abuse when he confronted them, and a fight ensued. Kazi later died of his injuries.

The public and media were directed to the wrong court for the first appearance of the two accused.

When reporters discovered this and went to the correct courtroom, they were denied access and missed the proceedings.

Police said the public was denied entry to the court because the men were yet to appear in a identity parade.

A spokesperson for Kazi's family said their legal representatives had failed to get hold of prosecutors, who would explain why the public and media were misled.

"It's just the police who say it would have compromised the case, which wasn't satisfactory," said Zahid Asmal.

"We have tried to get answers from police investigators and the prosecutors but nobody could tell us."

The Law Clinic at the Freedom of Expression Institute said the judicial officer who made the decision to exclude the public had the discretion to do so.

"It has to be known what motivated this particular action, as it is not normal. It could definitely be an infringement on the justice system," said head of the Law Clinic, Mbalenhle Cele.

She said courts were public institutions and that members of the public and journalists had the same rights as the victim's family members to attend proceedings.

According to the Bill of Rights, everyone has the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to a public trial before an ordinary court.

In a report on the SA Law Commission's website, a trial is described as public when "members of the public, including the media, have access to the courtroom and may report on the proceedings".

The report continues: "A prerequisite for a public hearing is that the public knows when the proceedings are scheduled..."

In 2005, when the media was barred from attending an appearance of now President Jacob Zuma, the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said journalists covered court cases and were the "eyes and ears" of the public.

Sanef media freedom chairperson Nic Dawes also questioned the exclusion of the public and reporters from the Krugersdorp Magistrate's Court.

"The open justice principle requires that courts be open to the public and, crucially, to the media, who disseminate news of court proceedings to a wider audience," he said.

"Only in specific and unusual circumstances may a judge order otherwise and we are aware of nothing that would justify such a decision in this case."

- SAPA
Read more on:    muhammad fayaaz kazi  |  johannesburg
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