EFF denied court Parly interdict

FILE PICTURE: Policemen break up a scuffle between Economic Freedom Fighters MPs and ANC members at Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday, 21 August 2014. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

The Western Cape High Court on Monday denied the Economic Freedom Fighters an urgent interdict to halt disciplinary proceedings by Parliament against 20 MPs who last month heckled President Jacob Zuma in the legislature.

The ruling came after the EFF’s legal counsel conceded that he was hard-pressed to prove both the need for urgent relief, or the merit of the party’s argument that Parliament’s powers and privileges committee was bound to be biased against his clients.

Advocate John van der Berg argued that the application concerned the constitutional principle of parliamentary privilege that entitled MPs to hold the executive to account.

But he acknowledged that he lacked more information about the committee, other than that it was likely to have a majority of ANC members hearing charges that were referred to it by a speaker belonging to the same party.

Judge Vincent Saldanha asked: “Not being told who the committee is, how can I be asked to find that they will be biased?”

After Van der Berg further conceded that he was unlikely to file supplementary papers on this point before the committee was due to meet on Tuesday morning, the judge struck the matter from the roll.

However Saldanha resisted a call by the lawyers acting for Parliament to make an immediate cost order against the EFF because, as they argued, its case was spurious.

Instead the judge gave the party 15 days to bring argument of why it should be spared a cost order, saying he was inclined to be lenient in this regard because they were “a young political party” and an immediate cost order would be seen as a deterrent to approach the courts.

Shortly before the ruling was made, the court was informed that Parliament had decided to postpone the disciplinary hearings by a week.

Parliamentary legal advisor Zuraya Adhikarie said she did not know the grounds for the delay.

Sources close to the EFF said it was likely the party would use the time to seek another order for interim relief.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu has consistently argued that the party’s members cannot expect a fair disciplinary process because the ANC has instructed Speaker Baleka Mbete to contain the robust debate it has brought to Parliament.

The charges were brought after EFF MPs on August 21 brought parliamentary business to a standstill by shouting “pay back the money” at Zuma during presidential question time – in a reference to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s order that he should reimburse some of the public funds spent on his private home in Nkandla.

If found guilty of the charges of disrupting Parliament and showing contempt for proceedings, the EFF MPs could be suspended from the legislature for up to 14 working days.

They claim this is a bid by the ANC to prevent them from again confronting Zuma on the Nkandla controversy.

After the incident in the National Assembly, Mbete had moved to ask the National Assembly to suspend the EFF members in parallel to referring the matter to the committee, but capitulated after the party threatened to challenge this step in court.

– Sapa

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