NPA tries to bar media again

2012-08-29 13:38
Charl du Plessis
In its latest attempt to bar journalists from senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will appeal a judgment which granted the media access to proceedings.

Court papers were yesterday served on City Press and Media24’s lawyers, giving notice that the NPA intends to appeal against the whole of Judge Ronel Tolmay’s July 27 ruling, which granted the media access to the hearing.

“Given the controversy surrounding Breytenbach’s suspension, permitting the media to attend could restore the credibility of the NPA. If not, we may face a constitutional crisis,” Tolmay found.

But the NPA argues that Tolmay “erred” in finding that the charges against Breytenbach related to whether employees of the NPA had breached constitutional principles.

The NPA says in its latest court papers that this had “nothing to do with the charges advocate Breytenbach is required to answer”.

Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing has been fraught with complications and controversy.

Two weeks ago, the NPA led all of the evidence in chief from Ronnie Mendelow, a lawyer representing Imperial Crown Trading who also laid a complaint against Breytenbach.

The NPA then announced it would launch an application for chairperson Sandile July to recuse himself before it continued with Mendelow’s evidence in chief.

Wim Trengove, representing Breytenbach, objected to this, noting that prosecutor William Mokhari had the previous day promised he would only need an “hour or two more” with the witness.

Mendelow has still not been cross-examined by Trengove.

The NPA asked for July’s recusal because it said the firm of attorneys he had represented once acted for ArcellorMittal in a matter related to the mining rights dispute between Sishen Iron Ore and Imperial Crown Trading.

Several of the charges against Breytenbach relate to a complaint laid against her by Mendelow, representing ICT.

A furious July did step down as chairperson, but not before saying he hoped the hearing “is not going to be controlled by people who happen to be controlled by the complainants who tell the NPA how to run the hearing”.

City Press understands that July had never been involved directly in the ArcellorMittal matter and had also informed the NPA of his firm’s involvement on the first day of the hearings.

This is the second chairperson the NPA has replaced in Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing.

The first, Barry Madolo, made a ruling granting the media access to proceedings. Shortly afterwards, he was replaced.

The NPA said it was not bound by this ruling, but accepted the part where Madolo suggested the NPA consider replacing him.

Lawyers for City Press were eventually forced to go to court for an order compelling the NPA to allow the media access.

The hearing has been postponed indefinitely while the NPA finds a new chair.

Breytenbach has consistently maintained that the charges against her are a “trumped up” attempt to protect former police crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.