Myrtle Clarke, Jules Stobbs and their lawyer, Ricky Stone. Picture: Zelda Venter

Pretoria - The live streaming of court proceedings for all who attend these legal hearings, is now a possibility after a groundbreaking judgment on Thursday by the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

Until now, only recognised media houses could apply for the broadcasting and live streaming of court proceedings. But a two-year long battle by South Africa’s dagga couple, Myrtle Clarke and Jules Stobbs, now made it possible for the public and interested parties who attend hearings, to do likewise.

As with the media, the parties who want to broadcast proceedings must still apply in this regard to the presiding judge. But a full bench (three judges) in their judgment made it clear that a judge should not withhold permission for flimsy reasons. 

The judges held the view that the right of the public to access and to hear and view court proceedings through live streaming and broadcasting was in line with open justice.

The issue of live streaming came to the fore in 2017 when the couple, together with the organisation Fields of Green for All, turned to court to legalise dagga. They obtained an expert from abroad to testify about the benefits of the green plant and all was set for the hearing.

The couple then applied to live stream the proceedings to the website of Fields of Green for All.

Doctors for Life and six arms of government vigorously opposed this, although the presiding judge at the time, Natvarlal Ranchod, questioned what the difference was between the media broadcasting the proceedings and Fields of Green.

Judge Ranchod did allow the live streaming, but Doctors for life and the government, as well as the national director of public prosecutions, still objected. They felt that the issue should have been further vented by Judge Ranchod before he had made his decision.

They turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein to appeal the issue, but that court referred it back to a full bench in Pretoria.

Judge Leicester Adams, who wrote the concurring judgment which turned down the appeal on Thursday, said neither government nor Doctors for Life demonstrated that their rights to a fair trial would be prejudiced if the dagga trial was live streamed by Fields of Green for all. 

“It is crystal clear to us that the appellants are not able to demonstrate in what manner their fair trial rights in the civil trial would be prejudiced. This, especially as they have no objection  to the broadcasting of the proceedings by the traditional media.” 

He referred the matter back to Judge Ranchod so that he could impose the conditions for the live streaming.

But Clarke told IOL that they will not return to court at this stage, as they will first wait for government’s regulations regarding the use of the green plant. “If it is not to our satisfaction, we will be back in court,” she said.

But Clarke is elated that their two year long battle to be able to live stream the proceedings, will pave the way for other ordinary people to also live stream proceedings in future. 

They will, however, first have to obtain permission from the presiding judge. But this judgment now makes it possible for them to also broadcast or live stream proceedings. 

The full bench meanwhile also slapped government with the hefty legal bill - including the proceedings before the SCA - for their persistent and fruitless objection to the proceedings being live streamed by Fields of Green.

[email protected]

Pretoria News