The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has postponed the disciplinary hearing of suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach until July 23.
Advocate Barry Madolo, who is chairing the hearing, would rule next week on an application that the hearing to be open to the media, City Press assistant editor Adriaan Basson said on Tuesday.
Lawyers for Media24 argued that the matter was no ordinary hearing.
“The NPA is a public institution and this is a very senior prosecutor who has made a name for herself in prosecuting powerful individuals in business and in government,” Basson said.
Breytenbach has been accused of abusing her power while investigating a case concerning iron ore mining company Kumba.
She submitted in papers before the Labour Court that she was suspended because she insisted on investigating fraud and corruption charges against former police intelligence head Richard Mdluli.
Both matters were of interest to the public, Basson said.
If what Breytenbach alleged were true, it was a “very serious indictment” of the NPA, he said.
However, if the NPA was correct in its case against her, it was also a serious matter.
“We want to hear what both sides have to say,” he said.
Media24's legal argument had three pillars.
Firstly, the case was of immense public interest. Secondly, the group did not believe there was any legal prohibition against media being present, whether in labour law, or in the NPA's own statutes.
Thirdly, the constitutional right to freedom of expression should outweigh the NPA's privacy, particularly as Breytenbach did not oppose the presence of the media.
Should the application be denied, City Press would approach the courts, he said.
Advocate Wim Trengove, for Breytenbach, said his client supported Media24's application.
“Open justice is a good thing,” he said.
Breytenbach was disappointed by the postponement, he said.
“She wants the hearing to be done and completed as quickly as possible.”
Earlier in the day, Basson posted summaries of the legal arguments on the social networking site Twitter.
Advocate Raylene Keightley, for Media24, argued that the matter went to the heart of the NPA's constitutional imperative. This was to prosecute without fear or favour.
Basson tweeted: “Keightley citing examples of Hlophe hearing, Aurora liquidation, and CCMA case of ex SIU boss Faiek Davids where press allowed #Breytenbach.”
Advocate William Mokhari, for the NPA, argued there could never be a provision that internal disciplinary matters should be open.
“Mokhari: NPA has many employees. Next time they will also want media present. This will set very bad precedent. #Breytenbach,” Basson tweeted.
At one point, Madolo asked both sides whether the Mdluli case would form part of the arguments.
“Chair Madolo asks if #Mdluli is part of this case. Mokhari: No. Trengove: absolutely yes. #Breytenbach,” Basson tweeted.
Madolo then warned those attending that he might have to recuse himself if the Mdluli investigation was discussed. - Sapa