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Conrad Stefaans Brümmer v. the Minister of Social Development and Others

Case number:
CCT 25/09
Country:
South Africa
Date of decision:
13 August 2009
Court / Arbiter:
Constitutional Court ( Constitutional )

Relevant law :

Decision:

A thirty-day time limit for parties who wish to challenge a denial of a request for information in court is inadequate; until the legislature passes a law setting a fair time limit, requesters will have 180 days in which to file.


Keywords:
Administrative / Internal review
Constitution
Contracts / Agreements (use of public funds, negotiations)
Judicial review (including access to courts)
RTI law
Time (time limit, delay)

Case details:

Facts

Pursuant to the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), Stefaans Brümmer, a journalist, made a request to the Department of Social Development for information concerning a business tender the department allegedly awarded (para. 3). After his request was denied and an internal appeal was unsuccessful, Brümmer turned to the Western Cape High Court for relief (paras. 4-6). The High Court rejected his application on the ground that he missed the 30-day deadline set out in Section 78(2) of PAIA; the High Court refused to extend the deadline in part because, according to the High Court, his application was unlikely to succeed (para. 10). However, the High Court also ruled Section 78(2) unconstitutional in that it does not give a person refused information adequate time to approach a court for relief (para. 11). The High Court referred this matter to the Constitutional Court for confirmation (para. 11).

Brümmer appealed the High Court's ruling rejecting his application, claiming that the time limit violated his constitutional rights of access to court and access to information. He also sought a confirmation from the Constitutional Court on the unconstitutionality of Section 78(2) of PAIA.

Decision

In a unanimous judgment, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 30-day time limit in Section 78(2) of PAIA is unconstitutional as it is neither reasonable nor justifiable, and does not allow an adequate and fair opportunity to challenge a refusal of access to information (para. 48). The Court further declared that access to information is crucial to the right of freedom of expression, and that the public must have access to information held by the state (paras. 62, 63).

As relief, the Court ordered Parliament to enact legislation that prescribes a time limit consistent with the Constitution, bearing in mind the right of access to court as well as the right of access to information (para. 74). The Court further ordered that, until the enactment of such legislation, a person who wishes to challenge a refusal of information should apply to court within 180 days of being notified of an adverse internal appeal; but also advised courts to be flexible where the interest of justice requires (paras. 76-77). The Court referred this case back to the High Court, but to a different judge (para. 84).

The Court permitted two amici to be heard to support the applicant.

Resources:

Judgment of the Court.