NPA, City Press in court over Breytenbach

2012-07-20 15:34

Lawyers acting for City Press have questioned why the National Prosecuting Authority is “so adamant” about barring the media from senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing.

City Press and other media houses today argued an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court in which it is asking the court to compel the NPA to give the media access to the hearing.

Anthony Stein, who appeared for City Press and Media24, said “one has to wonder why it’s the NPA who is so adamant that the media not attend, when it’s (Breytenbach) who faces the charges”.

Stein was referring to the fact that Breytenbach has supported the media’s request for access to her hearing.

In her affidavit filed in today’s case, Breytenbach said the “trumped-up” charges against her were an attempt to prevent her from prosecuting former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli on fraud and corruption charges.

Breytenbach said that in these circumstances, she was “more likely to have a fair hearing if the proceedings are held in the public gaze”.

Stein argued that the media did not want blanket access to disciplinary hearings, but that Breytenbach’s hearing was a unique one of “significant public interest”.

Stein said the NPA had a constitutional mandate to prosecute crimes without fear, favour or prejudice, and that this was at stake in Breytenbach’s case.

William Mokhari, acting for the NPA, argued against media access, saying the disciplinary hearing was a “private matter” between the employer and the employee.

Mokhari faced a number of questions from Judge Ronel Tolmay about what possible prejudice the NPA would face by allowing the media to access the hearings, given the fact that Breytenbach did not oppose their presence.

“Can the NPA be regarded as just another employer? Isn’t it a little bit different to any other employer?” Tolmay asked at one point.

Mokhari responded that the NPA did “perform a constitutional duty, but on the other hand it also employs people”.

BTolmay then said Breytenbach’s allegation that she was suspended to protect Mdluli “went to the very nature of (the NPA’s) consttitutional duties (to prosecute crime without fear, favour or prejudice) ... One can never say it’s merely an employer/employee relationship”.

Tolmay also asked Mokhari if it wasn’t in the NPA’s best interests to have the issues aired in public.

“My concern is that the NPA plays a very, very crucial role in this democracy.

“At this moment, the public domain is rife with allegations that go to the very root of our constitutional democracy.”

Mokhari argued that if the media were given access it would affect the fairness of the proceedings.

He said that sensitive evidence would be going into the public domain on a daily basis and that witnesses might be influenced in their testimony by the media’s presence.

He also raised the possibility that the chairman would be swayed by public opinion and said media access might prevent the hearing from being finished quickly.

Tolmay is set to make her ruling on Monday morning, less than two hours before Breytenbach’s disciplinary is due to start.

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