We got the clarification we wanted - Legal Aid SA

2015-09-25 16:39


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Johannesburg - Legal Aid SA's appeal to the Constitutional Court about providing legal assistance to the miners arrested and injured at Marikana provided the clarification they were looking for, the organisation said.

"Legal Aid SA’s primary objective to appeal the High Court judgment was to obtain clarity on the correct application of Section 34 of our Constitution," it said in a statement.

Section 34 deals with the right to access the courts and whether this includes commissions of inquiry, which in this case was the Farlam Commission on Inquiry.

The commission investigated the deaths of 44 people during strike-related violence at Marikana in August 2012. Its final report was handed to President Jacob Zuma on March 31 who released it to the public on June 25.

On Tuesday, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute in a statement said the High Court in Pretoria in 2013 ruled the miners arrested and injured at Marikana could take part in the inquiry and their lawyers were to be funded at legal aid rates.

Private funding

The miners did secure private funding for a short period from the Raath foundation, but then were unable to secure further private funding.

"It was our considered opinion that the application of this section by the High Court was very expansive," Legal SA said.

"It prioritised the interests of participants in commissions of inquiry above those of indigent and vulnerable people who are expressly entitled under our Constitution to have access to state funded legal representation."

South Africa's highest court on Tuesday dismissed Legal Aid's application for leave to appeal the High Court's ruling because the matter was now moot, as the inquiry had finished its work.

Legal Aid SA CEO Vidhu Vedalankar said they were not provided with separate funding for commissions of inquiry.

In the public interest

"Therefore any requirement for us to fund commissions, in which there is no legal settlement of matters, will have the effect of reducing the budget that is available to assist indigent persons in matters which could be legally settled by a court of law.

"We are nevertheless pleased that the court, in the minority judgment, felt that whilst the matter was moot, leave to appeal should have been granted to Legal Aid SA as it was in the public interest to consider the appeal and that the appeal should be upheld."

The Constitutional Court clarified that the High Court judgment applied specifically to the Marikana case, and did not affect the discretionary powers of Legal Aid SA.

South Africa's highest court also imposed no obligation on Legal Aid SA to fund commissions of inquiry in the future.

Read more on:    constitutional court  |  legal aid sa  |  judiciary

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