Data stor­age com­pany or­dered to re­lease files

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - BER­NADETTE WOLHUTER

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.

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