Nature of Services
Our specific services include:
- research consultancies
- policy advice
- strategic litigation advice
- legal training
- policy training
These services fall within the thematic areas of access to information (and the Promotion of Access to Information Act); whistle-blowing (and the Protected Disclosures Act); open government and open data, and other transparency-related issues including issues that relate to privacy.
Some examples of previous legal services we have provided are detailed below.
Freedom of Information (FOI) Clinic in conjunction with the University of the Western Cape
Clinical legal education:
Venue: University of the Western Cape
Lecture Lesson Plans:
Two lectures were given in relation to the promotion of access to information action.
BACKGROUND INFO on FOI Clinics
Freedom of Information (FOI) Clinic South Africa
Ten years after the enactment of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) in South Africa, it is an unfortunate reality that the level of usage and awareness of this Act is dismal. In comparison to similar open democracy legislation, the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA), where heavy jurisprudence is in abundance, litigation in the area of access to information is scant. The use of PAIA in the courts is however bound to increase. This is particularly likely since, in an important recent development, the courts in which PAIA may be used have been significantly expanded. A sigh of relief went up from access to information advocates across South Africa when, on 9 October 2009, rules of procedure were promulgated that set down the standards by which PAIA requests could be enforced in the Magistrates’ Courts.
These rules fulfilled the last of the conditions necessary to enable enforcement of PAIA in the courts far more accessible to the majority of the national population than the High Courts. The rules came into operation on 16 November 2009.
While the operation of these rules is laudable, a vital question needs to be posed. To what extent can PAIA be used to fulfill its mandate of assisting the people of South Africa to realize their socio-economic rights? Writing not in respect of access to information generally but rather in respect of its utility in the achievement of socio-economic justice, Mukelani Dimba has discussed the role of PAIA litigation. Drawing on the argument of Saras Jagwanth that access to information primarily plays an instrumental role in the achievement of socio-economic rights; Dimba sees access to information as a necessary aid for either social mobilisation or for litigation in order to enforce socio-economic rights.
Aside from litigation however, there is the need to first educate and promote awareness of the Act among the citizenry and such platform needs to be extended from civil society alone to include universities and the legal profession. There is no better place to target the legal profession other than through aspiring lawyers who can assist people in realizing that they can enforce their rights through the use of PAIA without any or minimal assistance. It is high time we collectively responded to the question posed to freedom of information stakeholders that given the continued state reliance upon and rolling out of the judicial enforcement model, how can stakeholders interested to effectively implement the right of access to information most effectively complement and supplement enforcement through the courts? One of the answers to this question would be to widen the pool of information champions who can assist people in making information requests and educate people on how to use this Act independently.
In a bid to expand the pool of champions of freedom of information in South Africa and increase the level of education and awareness of the legislation, the Open Democracy Advice Centre wishes to set up a Freedom of Information Clinic in an existing Law Clinic in a University.
In realising our mission of assisting people to be able to realise their human rights in general, and their socio-economic rights in particular, our legal expertise is mainly utilised through consultancies and our prolific parliamentary lobbying campaign on various transparency issues. We also provide some assistance on PAIA-related issues (and training) when project-related, and may engage in test case litigation on an ad hoc basis, if specific funding allows us to do so. Frequently, we offer other organisations with our expertise after we have referred strong strategic cases, We have recorded significant successes in recent times in the area of strategic litigation. These includes the nullification of S 78(2) of PAIA by the Constitutional Court for its unconstitutionality in terms of the period for appeal to a court; and the first usage of S 80 of PAIA by any requester of information to place disputed documents for disclosure in the custody of a Court.