/ 21 November 2007

FXI due in court over Masetlha documents

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) will appear in the Constitutional Court on Thursday in the case of Independent Newspapers versus the minister of intelligence.

The FXI — appearing as a friend of the Constitutional Court — said on Wednesday it would argue that Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils did not follow proper procedure when trying to withhold certain documents from the public.

The documents that Independent Newspapers wanted access to formed part of the Constitutional Court record in the case between former National Intelligence Authority head Billy Masetlha and President Thabo Mbeki.

”The minister of intelligence has objected to the disclosure of the documents, saying that the materials are classified and should be withheld on grounds of national security,” said the FXI in a statement.

The FXI said it believed court records, as a rule, should be unclassified in their totality.

”Our contention is that once such documents are part of court records, the minister would have to apply to court to have those court records [or the contentious parts of them] declared classified.”

The FXI said justice was compromised if government ministers could decide what parts of court records were publicly available.

”If the minister could decide that parts of court records are classified without having to apply to the court to do so, the public’s right to know and the principle of open justice will also be eroded.” — Sapa