Lawyers for the defence department, led by Michael Kuper, SC, asked that proceedings be adjourned until August 19 to deal with the declassification of documents. “There is a question of the classification of documents, you will know there are considerable difficulties which are attached to the production of documents [which are classified] which are appropriate for the commission,” said Kuper.
Those difficulties arose from legislation dealing with the classification of security documents. “It is essential that some format be arranged which will allow the evidence leading team to produce with confidence and without objection the train of documentation that the team regards as necessary for the ventilation of the issues in this matter,” Kuper said.
He said no decision had been made between government departments and the evidence team on how the matter would be settled. It was unlikely such a decision could be reached in a week. Seriti took a moment to consult co-commissioner Judge Thekiso Musi, Judge President of the Free State High Court.
“I think this issue of the classification will always be a nightmare,” Seriti said. “We believe that if at all the legal representatives of the defence department require a period to two weeks within which they will deal with the question of declassification of documents, this might be a very helpful suggestion.”
He said solving the declassification matter would spare the commission the inconvenience of having to ask members of the public to leave the room at times. Monday was meant to be the opening of the Seriti Commission’s public hearings at the Tshwane Council Chambers. Witnesses from the defence department were supposed to start testifying on Tuesday.
Seriti began proceedings by giving a short background on how the commission was set up and how witnesses were selected. “Our evidence leaders consulted with all those witnesses… They were satisfied that those people would be able to assist with the commission,” he said. The commission’s evidence leaders would lead the witnesses, despite the departments of defence and trade and industry appointing their own lawyers.
Seriti said he received a draft of an urgent court application against the commission on Sunday night. After reading it he realised that many of the issues had already been considered.
One of these was whether the commission could continue with only two commissioners, following the resignation of Judge Francis Legodi. The applicant, the defence department, believed the commission could not proceed with just two commissioners. Seriti said that was a decision President Jacob Zuma needed to make.
However, Kuper said the department had abandoned the court challenge. “The minister directed us to make it clear that she has complete confidence in you, chair [Seriti], and in your co-commissioner to address the matter on your own initiative. “We required the final authority of the minister to have moved any court application.”