Proceedings not rendered unfair just because applicability of Minimum Sentences Act, 1997 not indicated in charge-sheet:  Constitutional Court of South Africa

Constitutional Court of South Africa: A 10-Judge Bench comprising of CJ Mogoeng and Cachalia, Dlodlo, Goliath, Petse, AJ., Froneman, Jafta, Khampepe, Madlanga, and Theron, JJ., dealt with three appeals together having similar issues.

Facts of the case are that the appellants had been imposed with life sentences under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997 (Minimum Sentences Act). The appellants pleaded that the sentence pronounced by High Court were unfair as it had no power to sentence appellant under the Minimum Sentences Act without making the accused aware of its potential application from the beginning of the Trial i.e. the relevant provision to be mentioned in the charge-sheet.

This Court’s jurisdiction was challenged in this appeal to which the Court viewed that letting know of the charge with details to answer it is a constitutional matter and thus this Court had the jurisdiction to deal with this appeal. Further issue before this Court was whether the state failed adequately to inform the appellants of the minimum sentencing regime at relevant times. Appellants contended that right to fair trial guaranteed under Section 35 (3) of the Constitution was infringed as they were not informed of the application of Minimum Sentences Act and relevant provision of the Act was not mentioned in the charge sheet. Court referred case of S v. Ndlovu, (2017) ZACC 19  and observed that by virtue of this precedent it cannot be said that if accused is not informed of applicability of the Act the trial would be rendered unfair though the same had come in practice, that relevant section of the Act ought to be mentioned in the chargesheet. In case applicable section of the Act is not mentioned then it should be derived from the facts of the case if such omission renders the proceedings unfair or not. Therefore, all the applications for leave to appeal were dismissed. [MT v. State, Case CCT 122 of 17, decided on 03-09-2018]

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