Data storage company ordered to release files
A HIGH court judge has ordered a data storage company to release six million boxes of court files, which it was holding ransom after the Department of the Justice terminated its contract last year.
“Each day that this state of affairs continues, members of the public are prejudiced as they do not have access to final divorce orders for pension payouts, re-marriage or transfers of immovable property, and criminal records are not available to enable persons to lodge appeals,” Judge Cynthia Pretorius said in handing down her judgment on the urgent application in Pretoria last week.
“It is unconscionable that the public has to suffer due to an ongoing dispute between the two parties,” the judge said.
In 2011, the department awarded Mmela Investment Holdings Pty Ltd a five-year contract to provide off-site storage of court records from the Durban Magistrate’s Court, the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, the South Gauteng High Court, the North Gauteng High Court and the Cape Town High Court.
The contract was terminated last October and a new contract was awarded to Metrofile.
The department took Mmela Investment Holdings to court after it refused to hand over the files to the new service provider.
As a result, no department officials could access files, servers, software or electronic copies of the court records that had been scanned by the company.
It had refused to release the files until the department paid its “retrieval costs” of more than R84 million.
As per the agreement between the department and the company, the “retrieval costs” did not cater for the handover and removal of all 6 million boxes, but for the retrieval of files on a case-by-case basis.
Judge Pretorius said it was the State’s constitutional duty to provide a service to the public.
“As a result of (Mmela’s) stance, the department is inconvenienced and cannot deliver service to the general public,” she said. “It is not only in the interest of the department, but more so in the interest of justice and public interest, that the files be delivered as soon as possible.”
She said there was “no end in sight” to the dispute and litigation could take several years.
The company was ordered to hand over all the files and to pay the costs of the application.