ConCourt: Not granting deferment to suspects who are seeking funds not unfair

The case emanates from a 2002 arrest of several individuals suspected of smuggling gold and platinum.

The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – The Constitutional Court has ruled that failure to grant a postponement to crime suspects while they seek funds to obtain their preferred legal representation does not amount to an unfair trial.

The case emanates from a 2002 arrest of several individuals suspected of smuggling gold and platinum.

They were charged with 133 counts for contravening some sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, the Mining Rights Act and Precious Metals Act.

The individuals were tried in the Bloemfontein High Court between 2008 and 2014, following several postponements which were all rooted in their inability to afford attorneys of their choosing.

When the High Court facilitated access to free legal assistance for the applicants, they turned down the offer.

In August 2014, an order was issued by the court which deemed the cases against the accused as closed citing that the unreasonable delays constituted exceptional circumstances.

The matter was escalated to the Constitutional Court where the justices ruled that the right to legal representation of the accused’s choice does not include a right to have a trial postponed for a lengthy period to allow them time to secure funds to obtain their preferred legal representative.

The court stated that the Criminal Procedure Act required an explanation of the consequences thereof to the accused persons and exceptional circumstances must be present before it can be applied.

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