NPA concerned about 'Hollywoodising' Van Breda trial

2017-03-24 13:10
Henri van Breda leaves the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Henri van Breda leaves the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court grappled with the effect that social media and livestreaming could have on witnesses in the Henri van Breda murder case as Media24 applied on Friday for permission to livestream his trial.

Judge Siraj Desai wanted to know whether the company had a television station, and listened carefully as the company's advocate explained how it would work, if granted, when Van Breda's trial begins on Monday.

"There is no TV station. But video footage would be broadcast on the website through livestreaming," said Media24's Advocate John Butler SC.

Media24 is backing up its application with section 16 of the Constitution which guarantees certain rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and the right to access to information.

Butler also argued that allowing the filming enhances the right of access to justice, through providing a way for people not in a position to get to a court, to be able to follow proceedings for themselves.

Van Breda's legal team opposed the application on the grounds that filming could impede his right to a fair trial.

'Within seconds everybody knows what's happening'

Butler argued for Desai not to grant their request a "blanket" refusal, but to instead allow for an order that can be varied to accommodate different circumstances in the trial.

He helped Desai update his social media vocabulary after Desai made a comment that a relative was SMSing a speech of his live, as an example of the immediacy that modern technology has brought.

"Tweeting," said Butler gently.

Desai said: "In today's age everything is out in the world immediately. Within seconds everybody knows what's happening."

He later remarked: "Twitter is one thing, but texting is another. Some people are very good at it; their fingers are faster than their mouth sometimes."

Desai heard that precedent had already been set in the live broadcast of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, in which Judge Thokozile Masipa amended portions of the filming order during the trial to accommodate the wishes of certain witnesses who did not want their image published.

Sister to testify

In the case of Shrien Dewani, only stills and filming of his arrival and departure were allowed, but this was due to his vulnerable state.

The judge eventually discharged the case against murder accused Dewani and he was free to go home.

Van Breda is expected to go on trial on Monday to face three counts of murder, one of attempted murder, and one of obstructing the course of justice.

His parents, Martin, 54, and Teresa, 55, and his brother Rudi, 22, were axed to death in their home on the luxury De Zalze golf estate in Stellenbosch in the early hours of Tuesday, January 27, 2015. He handed himself to police in June and was granted bail of R100 000 on June 14.

His sister Marli, 17, survived the attack, but sustained serious brain injuries and suffered amnesia.

She is, however, on the list of State witnesses expected to testify.

Careers at risk

The counsel for the National Prosecuting Authority, Hilton Epstein, argued that cameras in court put witnesses under pressure and the possibility of being able to follow the trial could see them tailoring evidence.

Witnesses customarily sit outside court so that they are not influenced by proceedings, but in present times, information is imposed on people where ever they go, he said.

"Why this case? Is this not the Hollywoodisation of open justice?" asked Epstein.

Epstein warned that testifying in court is an intimidating experience, and expert witnesses' reputations could be torn to shreds by the public.

"What does it do to their career? What does it do to their rights?" asked Epstein.

But Desai said: "If an expert is torn to shreds, then he is not an expert."

The application continues.

Read more on:    henri van breda  |  cape town  |  crime  |  van breda trial

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