Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General, Transvaal, and Another

JurisdictionSouth Africa
Citation1996 (1) SA 725 (CC)

Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General, Transvaal, and Another
1996 (1) SA 725 (CC)

1996 (1) SA p725


Citation

1996 (1) SA 725 (CC)

Case No

CCT/23/94

Court

Constitutional Court

Judge

Chaskalson P, Mohamed DP, Ackermann J, Didcott J, Kentridge AJ, Kriegler J, Langa J, Madala J, Mokgoro J, O'Regan J and Sachs J

Heard

March 10, 1995

Judgment

November 29, 1995

Counsel

R K R Zeiss SC (with him S J J van Rensburg) for the applicants.
J A van S D'Oliveira SC (with him H M Meintjies and E Leonard) for the first respondent.
E Bertelsmann SC (with him J G Cilliers) for the second respondent (the Commissioner of the South African Police).

Flynote : Sleutelwoorde G

H Constitutional practice — Courts — Constitutional Court — Referral to Constitutional Court in terms of s 102(8) of Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 — Question whether a Court interpreting Constitution bound by principles of stare decisis — Such question not a constitutional question at all — Provincial Division having jurisdiction to determine that issue — Not an issue which could properly be referred to I Constitutional Court in terms of s 102(8).

Constitutional law — Human rights — Right of accused to a fair trial in terms of s 25(3) in chap 3 of Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 — Right to have access to contents of police docket prior J to trial — Requirements of fair trial in particular case

1996 (1) SA p726

A depending on circumstances — No rigid rules desirable — Blanket docket privilege unreasonable and unjustifiable in open and democratic society and unnecessary — Provisions of s 23 of Constitution taking matter no further — Where there is reasonable risk that disclosure might constitute B a breach of State secrets, methods of police investigation, identity of informers and communications between legal adviser and client or lead to intimidation of witnesses or otherwise impede proper ends of justice, Court to exercise proper discretion in balancing accused's needs for a fair trial against legitimate interests of State — Supreme Court to determine application of these principles on basis of guidelines set out.

C Constitutional law — Human rights — Right of accused to a fair trial in terms of s 25(3) in chap 3 of Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 — Right to consult with State witnesses — Circumstances possible where right to a fair trial might justify a prior consultation with State witnesses — Blanket rule prohibiting such consultation cannot D be justified under s 33 of Constitution — Claim to consult State witnesses without prior permission of prosecuting authority can only be justified where right of accused to a fair trial would in special circumstances of case be impaired if defence is denied opportunity to have such consultations — Court must have right to test legitimacy of any such E denial — Not sufficient for State to show that it had bona fide belief that there was a reasonable risk that access might lead to intimidation of witness or otherwise prejudice the proper ends of justice — Such belief to be reasonable in circumstances.

Constitutional law — Human rights — Right of access to State information F in terms of s 23 in chap 3 of Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 — Police docket — Right of access to by accused — In context of a criminal prosecution right to a fair trial in terms of s 25(3) of Constitution of direct application — Difficult to see how s 23 could take matter any further.

Headnote : Kopnota

G The applicants had been indicted to stand trial in a Provincial Division on a charge of murder. Before the trial, various applications were made to the trial Court on behalf of the applicants, including an application that they be given copies of the relevant police dockets. The Court refused the applications, holding that the applicants had not satisfied the Court that the documents were 'required' by them within the meaning of s 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993 'for the exercise of any of their rights to a fair trial.' The Court H ordered, however, that a number of constitutional questions raised by the applications be referred to the Constitutional Court for a ruling in terms of s 102(8) of the Constitution.

The Court, per Mahomed DP, firstly considered the form and content of the questions referred by the Provincial Division and held that para 1 of the referral (whether a Court interpreting the Constitution was bound by the principles of stare decisis to follow the decision of a superior Court) did not raise a constitutional question at all: the Provincial Division had jurisdiction to determine that issue which was merely the I interpretation of a common law principle and was not an issue which could properly be referred to the Constitutional Court in terms of s 102(8). (Paragraph [8] at 733G-H.)

The Court also held that paras 2 and 3 of the order were too widely stated. These paragraphs read as follows:

'2.

Whether s 23 of the Constitution can be utilised by an accused in the exercise of his rights contained in s 25(3) of the Constitution; and if so

2.1

whether the accused should have access to the police dossier; J and if so

1996 (1) SA p727

2.2

A to what extent, under what circumstances and subject to what conditions (if any) such access should be exercised.

3.

Whether any provision in the Constitution permits an accused to consult with prospective State witnesses who have given statements to the police; and if so, under what circumstances and subject to what conditions (if any) such consultations should be exercised.' (Paragraph [9], read with para [4], at 733I and 732G-733A.

B The questions as to whether the common law of privilege articulated in the case of R v Steyn 1954 (1) SA 324 (A) was in conflict with the Constitution was an issue which should properly be determined by the Constitutional Court. However, it was for the Supreme Court in the first instance to determine what the common law should be having regard to the spirit, purport and objects of the relevant provisions of the Constitution and to develop the common law. The manner in which the questions had been formulated did not distinguish sufficiently between these two issues. The Court decided to confine itself to two issues, namely

(A)

C whether or not the common law privilege pertaining to the contents of police dockets, defined in Steyn's case, was consistent with the Constitution;

(B)

whether the common law rule of practice which prohibits an accused person or his legal representative from consulting with a State witness without the permission of the prosecuting authority, in all cases and regardless of the circumstances, was consistent with the Constitution. (Paragraph [9] at 734A-E.)

D As regards the application of s 23 in regard to the issue of access to the police docket, the Court held that in the context of a criminal prosecution s 25(3) was of direct application and that it was difficult to see how s 23 could take the matter any further. If the applicants were entitled to the documents in terms of s 25(3), nothing in s 23 could operate to deny that right and, conversely, if the applicants could not legitimately contend that they were entitled to such documentation in terms of s 25(3), it was difficult to understand how they could, in such E circumstances, succeed in an application based on s 23. The real enquiry was therefore whether or not the applicants were entitled to succeed in their application on the basis of a right to a fair trial asserted in terms of s 25(3). (Paragraph [34] at 742D-743B.)

What a fair trial might require in a particular case depended on the circumstances: the simplicity of the case, either on the law or the facts or both; the degree of particularity furnished in the indictment or the summary of substantial facts in terms of s 144 of the Criminal Procedure F Act 51 of 1977; the particulars furnished pursuant to s 87 of the Criminal Procedure Act. (Paragraph [37] at 743E-F.) In some cases, which might include a number of prosecutions in the inferior courts, there might be scant justification for allowing access to police dockets to ensure a fair trial for the accused. No rigid rules were desirable: it was for the trial Court to exercise a proper discretion having regard to the circumstances of each case. (Paragraph [38] at 744C-F/G, paraphrased.)

G As to the constitutionality of the rule in R v Steyn, the Court held that the blanket rule of exclusion was unreasonable, unjustifiable in an open and democratic society and was unnecessary. In the case of statements of witnesses made in circumstances where there was a reasonable risk that their disclosure might constitute a breach of State secrets, methods of police investigation, the identity of informers and communications between a legal advisor and his client, it might be proper to protect the disclosure of such statements and the State might succeed in establishing H that such restriction was reasonable, justifiable in an open and democratic society based on freedom and equality and that it was necessary and did not negate the essential content of the right to a fair trial. Even in such cases it did not follow that this disclosure of the statements concerned had always to be withheld if there was a risk that the accused would not enjoy a fair trial. The Court in each case had to exercise a proper discretion balancing the accused's need for a fair trial against the legitimate interests of the State in enhancing and protecting I the ends of justice. (Paragraph [55], read with para [40], at 751E-H and 745A-D.)

The Court noted however that the real problems arose not with the principle itself but with its application...

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172 practice notes
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    ...SACR 772 (Ck) (1998 (2) BCLR 242): referred to Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General of Transvaal and Another 1995 (2) SACR 761 (CC) (1996 (1) SA 725; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593): referred to. D Legislation Statutes The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996, ss 12(1), 35(1......
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    ...Mr d'Oliveira submitted that, despite the judgment of this Court in Shabala/a and Others v Attorney-General, Transvaal, and Another 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) (1995 (2) SACR 761; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593), the perception persisted that the defence had extensive rights of access even at the bail stage.......
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    ...S v Zwayi 1997 (2) SACR 772 (Ck) (1998 (2) BCLR 242): referred to Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General of Transvaal and Another 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) (1995 (2) SACR 761; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593): referred to. J 2003 (6) SA p515 Statutes Considered Statutes A The Constitution of the Republic o......
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163 cases
  • S v Thebus and Another
    • South Africa
    • Invalid date
    ...SACR 772 (Ck) (1998 (2) BCLR 242): referred to Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General of Transvaal and Another 1995 (2) SACR 761 (CC) (1996 (1) SA 725; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593): referred to. D Legislation Statutes The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996, ss 12(1), 35(1......
  • Director of Public Prosecutions, Transvaal v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, and Others
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    • Invalid date
    ...(2) SA 38; 1997 (12) BCLR 1675): referred to Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General, Transvaal, and Another 1995 (2) SACR 761 (CC) (1996 (1) SA 725; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593): referred Shinga v The State (Society of Advocates, Pietermaritzburg Bar, as Amicus Curiae); O'Connell and Others v The ......
  • S v Dlamini; S v Dladla and Others; S v Joubert; S v Schietekat
    • South Africa
    • Invalid date
    ...Mr d'Oliveira submitted that, despite the judgment of this Court in Shabala/a and Others v Attorney-General, Transvaal, and Another 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) (1995 (2) SACR 761; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593), the perception persisted that the defence had extensive rights of access even at the bail stage.......
  • S v Thebus and Another
    • South Africa
    • Invalid date
    ...S v Zwayi 1997 (2) SACR 772 (Ck) (1998 (2) BCLR 242): referred to Shabalala and Others v Attorney-General of Transvaal and Another 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) (1995 (2) SACR 761; 1995 (12) BCLR 1593): referred to. J 2003 (6) SA p515 Statutes Considered Statutes A The Constitution of the Republic o......
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9 books & journal articles
  • 2011 index
    • South Africa
    • Juta South African Criminal Law Journal No. , September 2019
    • 16 August 2019
    ...NO and Others v AA and Another 2010 (5) SA 203 (WCC) 217-220, 223Shabalala v Attorney General of Transvaal 1995 (2) SACR 761 (CC); 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) ........................................................................ 62, 95SMD Telecommunications CC v Mutual and Federal Insurance Com......
  • 2018 index
    • South Africa
    • Juta South African Criminal Law Journal No. , August 2019
    • 16 August 2019
    ...Municipality 2013 (1) SA 323 (CC) ............................................. 125Shabalala v Attorney-General of the Transvaal 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) 88Soobramoney v Minister of Health, Kwa-Zulu Natal 1998 (1) SA 765 (CC) ...........................................................................
  • 2014 index
    • South Africa
    • Juta South African Criminal Law Journal No. , August 2019
    • 16 August 2019
    ...167Savoi v NDPP 2014 (1) SACR 545 (CC) ............................... 210, 212, 470, 486Shabalala v Attorney-General Transvaal 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) ......... 314, 319,322-3Shabalala v S [1999] 4 All SA 583 (N) ................................................. 445Shackell v S [2001] 4 All S......
  • 2017 index
    • South Africa
    • Juta South African Criminal Law Journal No. , August 2019
    • 16 August 2019
    ...Municipality 2013 (1) SA 323 (CC) ............................................. 125Shabalala v Attorney-General of the Transvaal 1996 (1) SA 725 (CC) 88Soobramoney v Minister of Health, Kwa-Zulu Natal 1998 (1) SA 765 (CC) ...........................................................................
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