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High Court rules charging fees to protest is unconstitutional

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS and the Right2Protest Project welcome a historic judgment in a matter brought on behalf of the Right2Know Campaign challenging fees charged for protests

The High Court has handed down judgment in a matter which challenged policy requiring convenors pay a “fee” when organising a protest in the City of Johannesburg. Judge Victor ruled this practice was unconstitutional and further ordered the Johannesburg City Manager to pay the costs of the applicants, the Right2Know Campaign, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

On Friday 10 June, the High Court in Johannesburg delivered judgment in an application brought by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) on behalf of the Right2Know Campaign, the Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee and community leader Keith Duarte. The application challenged the City of Johannesburg’s practice of charging protest convenors a fee to “allow” them to exercise their right to protest. The South African Human Rights Commission intervened as a friend of the court to emphasise the policy does not comply with international law.

In her judgment, Judge Victor finds that charging fees for gatherings through the City’s tariff policy is unconstitutional and this practice may no longer take place with effect from 10 June 2022. She also orders the City Manager of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality to pay the legal costs of the Right2Know Campaign. The judgment thoroughly canvases whether the policy is rational and constitutional, finding that it is not in line with either the Regulation of Gatherings Act or the Constitution and unjustifiably limits the right to freedom of assembly.  

“Protesting, demonstrating or picketing allows members of society to hold government and other entities to account,” the judgment concludes. “It is an outlet through which citizens can occupy public spaces to voice discontent and have their voices heard. The right enables participatory democracy, so to trammel on the right is to manipulate the path of democracy. Because freedom of assembly is so integral to any democratic society, its exercise cannot be limited without good reason.”

CALS, the Right2Protest Project, the Right2Know Campaign and many others who have been working to counter the practice welcome this historic judgment. We send our grateful thanks to our external counsel, Mluleki Marongo, for arguing the matter.

“Judge Victor’s ruling is a victory for the right to protest and for all those who seek to exercise it, but particularly for those who are rendered vulnerable and marginalised and cannot afford a fee,” says Sithuthukile, head of the Civil and Political Justice programme at CALS. “The judgment acknowledges the importance of protest in our country, both historically during the struggle against apartheid and currently in holding those in power accountable. No longer will anyone wishing to raise their voices about the social issues that affect them be obstructed by irrational fees.”

Read the full judgment here

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