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Media hopes of attending Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir's appeal for asylum rest with the Refugee Appeal Board (RAB), the Constitutional Court ruled on Friday.
The Mail & Guardian Media Limited and others had asked the court to declare unconstitutional section 21(5) of the Refugees Act.
This section provides for a blanket ban on the public attending asylum applications or appeals.
The unanimous judgment handed down on Friday in effect gave the RAB the right to declare its proceedings open to the public.
The court held that the section preventing the RAB from determining whether proceedings could be open was invalid.
It gave Parliament two years to amend the legislation and issued a temporary order which allowed the RAB the right to determine whether an asylum application or appeal could be opened to the public and the media.
It ruled that the discretion granted to the RAB would have to be determined by factors such as whether the asylum seeker agreed to public access and if it was in the public interest to allow such public access.
The court declined to make an order permitting the media access to Krejcir’s appeal hearing because its temporary order gave the RAB the discretion to relax the requirement of confidentiality.
Krejcir's application for asylum was refused in October 2008. He later appealed to the RAB.
The Mail & Guardian Media Limited and others had asked the RAB to allow journalists to be present during the appeal hearing and to report on proceedings. The request was turned down.
The applicants launched a review application in the High Court in Pretoria to have the RAB's decision set aside.
They also sought to interdict the RAB from continuing with the appeal and for section 21(5) to be declared unconstitutional.
They argued that it prevented members of the public and the media from attending and reporting on asylum applications or appeals.
The court held that the section was a limitation on the freedom of the press. However, the blanket ban on access by the public was constitutionally justifiable. The application was dismissed.
The applicants argued in the Constitutional Court that the section was a limitation on the right to freedom of expression and that information concerning Krejcir was in the public domain and therefore not confidential. - Sapa