CENTRALIZATION OF TRIAL

S v PORRITT AND ANOTHER 2016 (2) SACR 700 (GJ)

 

Trial — Centralisation — Application for — On grounds that discomfort and expenditure of lengthy trial at centre far from accused’s home would infringe fair-trial rights — Accused not satisfying court that their inability to prepare property for trial would amount to infringement of their rights — Application dismissed.

 

The applicants had been arraigned for trial in the High Court in Johannesburg on multiple charges contained in an indictment running to 1500 pages. They applied for orders that the case be postponed for hearing in Pietermaritzburg and that the offences allegedly committed in Johannesburg be centralised in the High Court sitting in Pietermaritzburg. The basis for the application was that the head offices of the business entities involved in the alleged crimes were all based in Pietermaritzburg and that all the documentation needed for their defence was based there and would be easily available to them during the course of the trial. The first applicant lived in Pietermaritzburg and had relatives there, whereas the second applicant lived in Knysna, but had only recently relocated there in order to be close to her daughter. They contended that their constitutional rights to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence would be infringed due to the high cost of conducting a very lengthy trial in Johannesburg, their inability to prepare for and conduct a trial away from where the documentary evidence was located, and the emotionally debilitating effect of being away from home and family for protracted periods.

Held, that the applicants had not dealt in their papers with the residence in an upmarket area in the north of Johannesburg which they could occupy during the trial, and the first applicant did not explain why he could not use the car he had in Pietermaritzburg to drive to Johannesburg each week and use that car whilst he was there. Held, further, that the accused had had ample opportunity to consider the documents that the state would rely upon that were not contained in the exhibit files and these should therefore already have been assimilated by them. They had also previously sought the production of documents which they claimed that the state had seized from them and therefore had a good idea of what documents might still be required and from whom they could be obtained.

Held, further, that the applicants, on whom the onus rested, had not made out a sufficient case in regard to their inability to prepare for trial and in regard to the physical and psychological distress they might endure, even if those could be construed as a justifiable basis for the purposes of invoking fair-trial prejudice under s 35(3)(b) of the Constitution, and irrespective of a consideration of any s 36 constitutional limitation. They had accordingly not satisfied the court that they would not receive a fair trial if the case continued in Johannesburg. Application dismissed.

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