This segment of the SAHA DVD 'PAIA: Case studies from civil society' considers the Constitutional Court decision on how costs should be dealt with in cases where a request for information is in the public interest.
Biowatch is a non-profit environmental organisation whose purpose includes watching over the introduction of genetically modified organisms. Before the introduction of PAIA, and on the basis of section 32 of the Constitution, Biowatch requested information from the Department of Agriculture about the introduction of genetically modified organism crops in South Africa. The request for information included information provided to the Department of Agriculture by private companies, including one called Monsanto. When the department refused to release the information to Biowatch it made an application to the court against the state. Monsanto chose to join the court case to protect its interests in the information it had provided to the state.
At first the judge decided that the state should provide Biowatch with most of the information it had requested. However, because some of Biowatch’s requests for information had not been very specific, the judge also decided that the state did not have to pay Biowatch’s legal costs (which would usually be what happened when a party was successful against the state) and that Biowatch had to pay the legal costs of Monsanto. Biowatch appealed the costs decisions all the way to the Constitutional Court in South Africa. There the court found in Biowatch’s favour.