Plaintiffs in dagga legalisation case should not be allowed to live-stream trial, state argues

01 August 2017 - 18:34 By Katharine Child
'The Dagga Couple', Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, are at the Pretoria High Court in their bid to make dagga legal in South Africa. File photo.
'The Dagga Couple', Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, are at the Pretoria High Court in their bid to make dagga legal in South Africa. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell

In a trial seeking to legalise dagga‚ brought by Johannesburg “dagga couple” Myrtle Clarke and Jules Stobbs‚ the state has argued against anyone but the media having the right to live stream a trial.

In June‚ Stobbs and Clarke asked to live stream the trial to associated website Fields of Green for All.

The trial on the merits or hazards of legalisation has yet to start as the state and Doctors for Life have spent the past two days trying to stop the trial being live streamed from the Pretoria High Court.

The state and Doctors for Life argued that the plaintiffs Stobbs and Clarke are not neutral and do not have a right to broadcast their own case.

Judge Nata Ranchod has asked repeatedly what the difference is between a media house and plaintiff live streaming a trial unedited.

He did not get an answer from either the state or Doctors for Life.

Ranchod told state advocate William Mukhari SC that Section 16 of the Constitution allows "everyone" the right to impart ideas and not just broadcast media.

His decision to live stream the trial is now being appealed by the state on Wednesday at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Mukhari argued it sets a precedent for an alleged criminal to live stream or broadcast their own case.

But criminal lawyer Ian Levitt said it didn’t matter if an alleged criminal or media house wanted to broadcast a trial as justice is open to all.

"The courts take the view that if anyone can walk into the public gallery and observe proceedings‚ the case can also be televised. Judges do not allow cameras when witnesses feel intimidated by camera or there are criminal informants or children and rape victims involved."

Levitt rubbished the argument that plaintiffs should not be able to live stream an unedited version of court proceedings. "Justice is public in South Africa as long witnesses are not affected."

Right2Know spokesman Murray Hunter said that in today's world media is not limited to well-known broadcast houses as was argued by the state. He said the organisation supports open trials and anyone seeing it.

Ranchod also asked the state repeatedly: "What is the difference between a member of the public attending the trial and another watching from home or traffic on live stream."

It did not answer.

Hunter critiqued the state views on media:

"We certainly believe court cases be as open as possible and publicly broadcast as widely as possible. It could be journalists live tweeting or citizens live tweeting‚ which is a form of broadcast.

"We support citizens’ right to watch live stream or to attend court."

Hunter added: "We don’t think media is limited to traditional media in the 21st century."

The state has argued in court and in correspondence it does not want news website Daily Maverick to broadcast Stobbs’ and Clarke’s live stream as the website has carried an article that has expressed a view that supports pro-legalisation of dagga.

"To argue that a publication that carries a single or controversial view or article should not live stream a case is blatant censorship‚” said Hunter. The state admitted that it is a default position of courts to allow broadcast of court proceedings in the interest of open justice‚ but in this case it was plaintiffs involved in a case that wanted to broadcast.

Doctors for Life suggested Stobbs and Clarke had not given the real motive for wanting the case seen around the world and accused them in court of "lies" and wanting to profit from live streaming.

Advocate acting for Stobbs and Clarke‚ Dan Mahon said concerns Doctors for Life and the state had would be allayed by live stream because it stopped "biased interpretation" of the case and gave the public the whole story.

"The state don’t want any negative reporting but it is not a basis to oppose reporting.

“The state failed to explain how live stream would prejudice the case‚" he said.