Andrew Feinstein, Hennie van Vuuren, Paul Holden | 21 August 2019
We welcome the judgment delivered on Wednesday in the High Court that sets aside the findings of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the Arms Deal. This is a profound victory for South African civil society and is the result of years of collective struggle against a massive cover-up of international bribery and corruption.
The judgment of the High Court on Wednesday is clear and unambiguous in finding that the commission made no attempt, at any time, to conduct a meaningful investigation into the Arms Deal. It found that “the inquiry and investigation that the commission was called upon to undertake never materialised”.
In summarising its findings, it also damningly found that that due to “so manifest a set of errors of law, a clear failure to test evidence of key witnesses, a refusal to take account of documentary evidence which contained the most serious allegations which were relevant to its inquiry, the principle of legality dictates only one conclusion, that the findings of such a commission must be set aside”.
The judgment will have a long-term and profound impact on South African politics and future commissions of inquiry. For the first time, South Africa’s courts have ruled that commissions of inquiry are reviewable, and must be conducted in line with the principle of fairness and legality. It also confirms that investigations by commissions must be pursued with an “open and enquiring mind”. This judgment creates a test of future commissions of inquiry, and sends a warning to all future commissions of inquiry that they must investigate matters under their purview fairly, fully, and with an “open and enquiring mind”.
In August 2014, in response to a call by civil society, we announced that we were withdrawing from the commission of inquiry, despite the fact that we had made detailed submissions to the commission and provided thousands of pages of evidentiary documents.