Henri van Breda
Cape Town - The murder trial of Henri van Breda may be further postponed to allow the State and defence opportunity to lodge an appeal against a ruling which gives a media company rights to broadcast the trial. 

The case was scheduled to start on March 27 but was postponed until April 24 after Judge Siraj Desai’s ruling to allow Media 24 to broadcast proceedings.

The National Director of Public Prosecutions opposed the ruling and so did Van Breda’s legal team.

This week, Judge Desai denied the parties leave to appeal his ruling.

This development could mean the parties have to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, which will delay the matter by at least two weeks.

Judge Desai said he was not persuaded that “there are reasonable prospects that the appeal would succeed or that there is some other compelling reason why the matter should be ventilated to a higher court”.

Judge Desai said in contemporary South Africa, courts could not curb the development of open justice. He said the public had the right to know what was happening in court and preventing broadcasting was closing the courts.

Judge Desai said court proceedings were already recorded by court equipment and the recordings were available to the public. He went on to say journalists would be using social media to relay what was happening in court anyway.

He found that there was no evidence to support concerns raised by the State and the defence about witnesses being intimidated by the presence of video cameras in court.

However, advocate Hamilton Epstein for the state disputed this, saying court was already an intimidating environment for the layman and it would be more so with cameras recording proceedings.

He said the prospect of a criminal trial being broadcast created a risk of some witnesses refusing to testify or altering their testimony in line with what they would have seen from the broadcast.

“There is a possibility that the aspiration of some witnesses to ‘celebrity’ status may lead to unreliable or misleading testimony.” Epstein said adding that another possibility was “counsel may grandstand, tailoring their arguments to the court of public opinion”.

Epstein’s argument was supported by Francois van Zyl, for Van Breda, who asserted that allowing cameras in court would interfere with cross-examination with some witnesses being forewarned about what questions to expect. 

He said the court erred in granting Media 24 permission to broadcast because the permission meant that the company had the right to broadcast and any witness requesting not to be filmed would have to provide reasonable cause, thus creating a trial within a trial. “Tweeting and live broadcasting are not the same,” Van Zyl said.

Judge Desai said he was not convinced as his ruling was flexible enough to allow any of the parties to approach the court for any variation or amendment of the order as the occasion warrants.

Van Breda is accused of killing his father Martin, his mother Teresa and his brother Rudi with an axe in their luxurious De Zalze home in Stellenbosch in January 2015. His sister Marli was injured but survived the attack. She is expected to be one of the witnesses.

Weekend Argus