As part of a landmark ruling this morning, Judge Roland Sutherland at the Pretoria High Court has ruled that the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, or RICA, is unlawful.

This follows a protracted legal battle brought about by amaBhungane, the investigative journalism organisation formed in 2010. The organisation filed the case in 2017 upon discovery that managing partner Sam Sole was the target of state surveillance.

The vehicle that allowed the surveillance to take place was RICA.

Together with Right2Know and the Legal Resources Centre the battle went to the high court and by golly they’ve won.

Judge Sutherland wrote in the ruling, “Sections 16(5), 17(4), 19(4), 21 (4) (a) and 22(4) (b) of RICA are inconsistent with the Constitution and accordingly invalid to the extent that they fail to address expressly the circumstances where a subject of surveillance is either a practising lawyer or a journalist.”

“The declaration of invalidity is suspended for two years to allow Parliament to cure the defects,” Sutherland said.

In lieu of these shortcomings, the judge said that until such time as legislation is introduced to address them an additional section should be added to RICA.

That section includes the provision that when an order is sought out according to sections 16(5), 17(4), 19(4), 21 (4) (a) and 22(4) (b) of RICA, it must be stated whether the person is a journalist or practising legal practitioner.

Even then a judge can still refuse the order.

“It is declared that the bulk surveillance activities and foreign signals interception undertaken by the National Communications Centre are unlawful and invalid,” concluded Sutherland.

This story is still developing and we will be updating it as and when more information regarding the ruling comes to light.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]