Van Breda trial: SCA had to weigh merits of live stream vs fair trial

2017-06-21 18:43
Murder accused Henri van Breda. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Beeld)

Murder accused Henri van Breda. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Beeld)

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Bloemfontein - The right to broadcast and live stream the murder trial of Henri van Breda had to be weighed against the risk of allowing cameras into the courtroom versus a fair trial.

This is what the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein had to decide when faced with an appeal by Van Breda, who was challenging Media24's application to livestream his trial.

"It shall be for the trial court to exercise a proper discretion, having regard to the circumstances of each case," the SCA said.

Van Breda won his battle in the SCA.

In its ruling, the SCA said the court should examine, with care, the approach to be taken with regard to each application.

READ: Van Breda, State win SCA appeal over trial livestream

Adverse effects of broadcasting

It said cameras were permitted to film or televise all non-objecting witnesses, and that spurious objections could also be dealt with.

"If the judge determines that a witness has a valid objection to cameras, alternatives to regular photographic or television coverage could be explored that might assuage the witness' fears."

In April, Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai refused the State and Van Breda leave to appeal his decision allowing Media24 permission to live stream the axe murder accused's trial.

Desai said the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and the accused "both continue to resist the video recording and broadcast of the criminal trial".

There was no evidence to support the State's claim of possible adverse effects of broadcasting the testimony of witnesses, Desai ruled, nor was it easily ascertainable how Van Breda's right to a fair trial would be compromised.

Desai had granted Media24 permission to film proceedings to be live streamed, following an urgent application.

Desai said at the time that there was no real prospect of the trial being jeopardised.

Court rejects blanket ban

But the SCA said that one of the objections relating to the opposition of cameras in courts was about the possible effect that cameras, and the audience they represent, may have on the testimony of witnesses in criminal trials.

"It will always remain open to a trial court to direct that some or all of the proceedings before it may not be broadcast at all or may only be broadcast in... audio form.

"It shall be for the media to request access from the presiding judge on a case-by-case basis."

The court also rejected the State's complete blanket ban of the case.

Van Breda is facing 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 at the luxury De Zalze golf estate in Stellenbosch in the early hours of Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

He handed himself over to police in June and was granted bail of R100 000 on June 14.

His sister Marli, 18, survived the attack, but sustained serious brain injuries and suffered amnesia.

Media24 was backing up its application to livestream the trial 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.

The SCA ordered Media24 to pay Van Breda's costs.

* News24 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Media24.

Read more on:    media24  |  henri van breda  |  bloemfontein  |  judiciary  |  crime  |  van breda murders

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