Manto v Sunday Times judgment a victory for free press

The judgment handed down last Friday has been hailed as a victory for the Health Minister by some publications and as a victory for the Sunday Times by others. Neither party is able to declare an outright victory in this matter. The Minister was successful in having her medical records returned to her or her hospital on the basis that they were unlawfully obtained. On the other hand, the paper was given the go ahead to report on the matter based on notes taken by the journalists and information given by their (lawful) sources.

This judgment was, however, a great success for the press and freedom of expression. The relief the Minister sought was, in addition to return of her medical records, that the paper be interdicted from publishing their comments based on her medical records. The judge had the following to say as he began to address this claim:

Freedom of the press does not mean that the press is free to ruin a reputation or break a confidence, or to pollute the cause of justice or to do anything that is unlawful. However freedom of the press does mean that there should be no censorship. No unreasonable restraint should be placed on the press as to what they should publish.

The judge dealt with the tension between the freedom of the press which has its support in the freedom of expression and the Minister’s right to privacy and dignity. He also commented on the fact that the Minister, as a public figure, is subject to greater scrutiny than a person who is not a public figure although the judge drew a distinction between the press delving into the Minister’s activities as they pertain to her public office and her personal life that is unrelated to her position in the public eye. Just because you are a public figure does not mean that every aspect of your life is an open book to the press.

Because the Constitution is the standard by which all law in South Africa is to be measured, cases such as this one will almost inevitably involve a balancing of rights and Constitutional imperatives. This is a great judgment to read if you are interested in how this balancing is achieved, particularly in this area.

Blogs to play a role in court proceedings?

According to Jim Downing of Smart Mobs, South Korean courts are considering whether the use of Web technology, like blogs, could be integrated into their processes to obviate the need for parties to appear in court:

Weblogs, or Internet diaries, are about to gain more than just curious readers. Korean courts are now experimenting whether they could operate court trials and hearings just through Internet postings, saving everybody the trouble of actually entering the courtroom,” the Korea Times reports.” The Seoul Administration Court recently designated one of its court units, which rules on labor-management relations and industrial accidents, to develop a prototype model for Internet-based trial models by the end of this month. Although the court has not yet decided on a detailed framework, it plans to allow the parties in lawsuits to submit their list of evidence,legal documents and other data on Weblogs or Internet message boards to be operated by the court. The court decisions will also be announced online. The court also plans to allow people to buy court documents and other requirements in preparing for their lawsuits through the Internet by credit card or mobile-phone payments. Korea has one of the largest Internet populations in the world, with the penetration rate reaching over 70 percent.

Now that is an interesting application of Web technology. I suppose this sort of technology could be used for court proceedings where all that is needed are filings like our application proceedings. In those proceedings the parties must file their papers and need only appear in court to address argument to the court. If there was a way to dispose of the need for oral argument through interrogatories or heads of argument then this method may work.

(via Between Lawyers)