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South African Constitutional Court to hear landmark SLAPP defamation and free speech case

14 February 2022 at 11:03 am

MEDIA ADVISORY:

WHAT: Constitutional Court hearing

WHEN: 09:30 SAST on Thursday, 17 February 2022

WHERE: The hearing will be livestreamed on the Constitutional Court’s Youtube Channel

On Thursday, 17 February 2022, the South African Constitutional Court will hear a landmark case on so-called “SLAPP suits”, or Strategic Litigation against Public Participation.

The case arises from a series of defamation claims lodged by ASX listed Australian mining company Minerals Commodities Limited (MRC) and its South African subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR). The claims, amounting to over R14.5 million, were filed against six activists and public interest lawyers for their public criticism of MRC’s conduct relating to a proposed mine at Xolobeni on South Africa’s Wild Coast, and MSR’s conduct at its Tormin mine on the West Coast of South Africa.

The case has important consequences for freedom of speech, protection of activism and the rights and responsibilities of corporations in South Africa and beyond.

The two Constitutional issues to be decided by the Court are:

  1. whether SLAPP suits constitute an abuse of court process, and violate the Constitutional right to freedom of speech; and
  2. whether a for-profit company is entitled to claim damages for defamation without offering evidence that meets certain minimum requirements, including proving actual loss suffered.

The Constitutional Court hearing is the culmination of a five year court battle, starting in May 2017. In February 2021, the Western Cape High Court handed down judgment in favour of the defendants. In her judgment, Judge Patricia Goliath described SLAPP suits as being the weaponisation of the legal system and cautioned against the abuse of power and resources which characterise SLAPP suits. It is this judgment that is on appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Two amici curiae, or friends of the court, have filed applications for leave to intervene in the matter, the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

For further information and media enquiries please contact Head of Corporate Accountability and Transparency programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights, Leanne Govindsamy on +27 (0)76 715 8270 or [email protected]

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