R2K: Court befuddled by access to information

Cape Town - It is disappointing that courts are not very familiar with issues around access to information, the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign said on Thursday.

"We are to some extent at the mercy of our own failure to develop this area of the law," R2K spokesperson Alison Tilley told the Cape Town Press Club.

She was addressing guests and journalists after the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) applied last week to keep a court record on its N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project sealed.

The Western Cape High Court hearing was held in camera and judgment was reserved.

In May last year, the City of Cape Town was granted an interim interdict to halt the proposed project.

The interdict remains in force until the court reviews Sanral's declaration of the project and the selection of the preferred bidder.

No date has yet been set for the review.

Sanral had cited commercial confidentiality when applying to keep private the city's supplementary papers, said to contain details about construction and costs.

R2K filed an urgent application on Thursday to make public all documents that had been filed from the moment the city took Sanral to court.

Tilley said they had no position on tolling but believed the public should have access to the project information so they could decide for themselves.

She said this case highlighted the need for the information regulator provided for in the Protection of Personal Information Act, which President Jacob Zuma assented to in November last year.

The act was distinguished from the Protection of State Information Act, commonly known as the Secrecy Bill, which dealt with the classification of state secrets.

Tilley said the information regulator would have the power to release information held by public bodies.

This commissioner would have copies of the record, get advice from parties and then make a decision.

"It takes it out of the courts and puts it in the hands of specialists," Tilley said.

She added this was a greater working tool than the Promotion of Access to Information Act, which often had a turnaround time of a year.

"The information regulator position we expect to be filled in the next year. It is a critical position to access to information and to justice. Its leadership is critical."

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