Pretoria - The South African government has asked that the application for an order to have Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrested while in the country be postponed to Monday, promising that he will not be allowed to leave until after it has been heard.
''We are dealing with a very serious matter which involves a sitting president of another country,'' William Mokhari, SC, told the High Court in Pretoria on Sunday afternoon.
He wanted more time to present the government's side of the argument. He said he had had no time to read the application as he had driven straight to court after being called mid-morning. His junior Isabelle Ellis held the fort until he arrived.
They managed to consult some of the ministers in the short time available, but many were at the African Union Summit, which al-Bashir was attending.
He said the only reason al-Bashir was in the country was to attend the summit and there was no reason he would leave until it was over. The summit runs on Sunday and on Monday.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on two warrants of arrest for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) wants the judge to order that the South African government arrest him and hand him to the ICC.
Mokhari said the State needed to provide documentation regarding Cabinet decisions that related to the matter and he needed to study them.
"We will try to work overnight," said Mokhari.
"There is no prejudice or risk of any sort at this stage... that President al-Bashir would be on his way back to Sudan."
Earlier, the SALC secured an interim that al-Bashir not leave the country until the application was heard. It served the interim order on the government departments responsible.
Isabel Goodman, for SALC said they had had difficulty at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport earlier on Sunday. She wanted an order which specified each port of exit from South Africa, and an assurance that this be communicated to officials at those ports of exit.
Speaking on the sidelines of the application, SALC spokesperson Caroline James said officials at OR Tambo International Airport refused to accept the order on Sunday.
Judge Hans Fabricius said he recently granted an order preventing a man from being taken to Botswana, but this was ignored, so he wanted to make sure this did not happen with al-Bashir.
''I'm going to vary the order to make it absolutely clear what is intended,'' said Fabricius.
''The order that I want to make is: the president is prohibited from leaving South Africa until an order is made in these proceedings.”
Goodman said the government had known about the SALC's intentions since May 21. SALC had also not received a reply from the government on whether al-Bashir was coming to South Africa for the summit, or if he was here.
The ICC ruled on Saturday that al-Bashir does not enjoy head of state immunity, and that South Africa remains obliged to arrest him. The ICC earlier issued a statement urging South Africa to arrest and hand him over.
The court adjourned for the government and SALC to draw up an order naming the exit points to which the order would be sent.