The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association’s (Fita) legal bid to have government’s controversial cigarette ban overturned will be heard by the High Court in the week of 9 June 2020.
This latest update delivered by Fita on Wednesday morning comes after government complied with the court order — albeit a few hours beyond the deadline — and delivered substantive documents detailing the National Coronavirus Command Council’s (NCCC) deliberation on the subject of cigarette sales during lockdown.
According to journalist, Heidi Giokos, the state’s legal team missed the 17:00 deadline on Tuesday but delivered 4 000 pages to Fita on Wednesday morning. These documents are expected to reveal the minutes of the NCCC meeting which initially supported, but later overturned, the sale of tobacco during a move to Level 4 lockdown.
Government submits ‘decisions and reasons’
Government’s initial statement on the matter, which asserted that no minutes or record of the NCCC voting process were kept, has only added further complexity to the legal defence. While Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma distanced herself from the ongoing legal battle, the NCCC chair has argued that the validation, ostensibly delivered to Fita, would focus on health concerns relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fita Chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, who has described the prohibition of tobacco as ‘arbitrary and irrational’, confirmed government’s response to the court order, noting:
“We can confirm that this morning we received the record of decision and reasons for the banning of the sale of cigarettes from the Respondents. We are now finalising our supplementary papers which will be served on the Respondents by no later than 29 May 2020.”
Cigarette ban court battle: What happens next?
Court documents published by the applicant, Fita, list the ‘President of the Republic of South Africa’ and the ‘Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ as primary respondents. The court order further revealed a timeline of the challenge as follows:
26 May: Respondents file record of decision and reasons
29 May: Applicant may amend notice of motion and supplement founding affidavit
3 June: Respondents must file their responding affidavits
6 June: Applicant will file any replying affidavit
8 June: Both parties exchange and file heads of argument
9 June: Parties will approach Deputy Judge President for a special allocation of the matter for hearing during the week of 9 June 2020, failing which the matter will be set down for hearing in the urgent court on 9 June 2020
The latest legal development coincides with South Africa’s unclear move to Level 3 lockdown on 1 June. Dlamini-Zuma and the NCCC, who have yet to ratify regulations within the Disaster Management Act, have postponed numerous media briefings which were intended to provide further clarity on the risk-adjusted, district-based approach.