Historically the position was that one was not allowed to gain
access to court documents until the matter had been called in open
court. Is this still the position? On 30 March 2015 the Supreme
Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein (SCA) ruled in favour of the City
of Cape Town by setting aside the Western Cape High Court decision
in regard to an application brought by the South African National
Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL).
The matter essentially involved access to court records and
whether such records should be made open to the public. The
SCA's ruling can be seen as a triumph for transparency and
accountability. More importantly, the SCA's ruling supports the
constitutionally entrenched right to access to information.
You may recall the principle of 'open justice' which
principally turns on the premise that all pleadings and documents
filed during the course of proceedings are deemed to be 'public
documents' only once that matter is called in open court.
Rule 62(7) of the Uniform Rules of Court states that, "Any
party to a cause, and any person having a personal interest
therein, with leave of the register on good cause shown, may at his
office, examine and make copies of all documents in such
cause." The high court said that Rule 62(7) regulates access
to such information and 'provides an important administrative
basis to support the implied undertaking rule'. The High Court
was further of the view that, according to Rule 62(7), 'public
access to the content of the court file in litigious proceedings is
permissible only after the matter has been called in open
court'. The SCA held that the insofar as both of these issues
is concerned, the high court appears to have gone beyond that which
it had been asked to judge.
The SCA's ruling redefined the principles of 'open
justice' and the interpretation of Rule 62(7) by saying the
view of the high court that, 'public access to the content of
the court file in litigious proceedings is permissible only after
the matter has been called in open court', must fail. The SCA
went on to say that the high court did not give Rule 62(7) a
comprehensive constitutional interpretation. Significantly,
"personal interest" should, in a constitutional context,
mean, 'any person who is personally interested' in the
case. In other words, the SCA held that Rule 62(7) is clearly
capable of referring, as the other rules do, simply to 'any
person' and a 'direct legal interest' is not
What does this all mean?
Crisply put, as soon as a document has been filed in court, it
becomes a public document. In other words, the public will have the
right to examine and copy the document. The principle of 'open
justice' is, consequently, ignited as soon as the documents are
filed in court.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Generally, Garnishee proceedings is done in two different stages. The first stage is for the garnishee order nisi, while the second stage is for the garnishee order absolute.
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