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Friday, 18 January 2013 12:54

Interim injunction in Soornack case extended to 18 January 2013

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“A citizen’s right to privacy is guaranteed under the law of a democratic Constitution to the same extent as the freedom of expression is protected.”
Underlining this democratic principle, Justice Bushan Domah sitting in Chambers last Saturday preferred to extend the interim order he issued on Saturday 5 December 2012 up to 18 January 2013 when the application for interlocutory injunction will be debated on its merits.

“I shall now impress upon the parties to complete their pleadings so that I can move to the interlocutory stage,” the Judge underlined in his ruling. In so doing, the Judge has drawn the attention of both parties to the application for injunction, namely Mrs Nandanee Soornack, the applicant, and Le Mauricien Ltd, Jacques Rivet, its director, La Sentinelle Ltée, Denis Ithier, its General Manager, Raj Meetarbhan, the editor in Chief of l’express and Rabin Bhunjun, the editor in chief of  l’express Dimanche, the respondents, to the following: “ I shall be called  upon, at the interlocutory stage, to decide two things in Chambers in  this application.

They are: (a) As a matter of law, how far can the Press go to intrude into private lives of citizens in a democratic society?  Our people want to know. Our political leaders need to know. Our Press needs to know. Our courts have to decide this. (b) As a matter of fact in this case, how far can applicant claim to be protected in her rights to privacy? She claims she is not a public figure. The Press claims she is a public figure by her association with an important public figure. That issue has to be determined in the first place. Until that is determined, I cannot open the floodgate and decide that the Press has a free hand over the privacy rights of individuals.”

Based on this reasoning Justice Domah justified his ruling to maintain the interim order forbidding the press to write on Mrs Soornack private life and that of her children.

At the start of his judgment Justice Domah mentioned that this application is a highly sensitive one with “an intricate political backdrop.”  He recalled that he impressed upon counsel appearing for both parties “to set all their political garbs” and to appear before him “in their professional gown” only and to address the Court on legal and constitutional issued involved. He also recalled that he made an interim order limited to Applicant’s right to privacy and the right of privacy of her children only. There was no gagging order and the Press was free to write anything on the public activities of the applicant.

The Judge considered that there exists a dilemma and a distinction has to be made when a private individual is associated with a public figure. And in a democratic society like Mauritius the question arises is whether he or she loses and does not lose his or her right to privacy and if he or she does, to what extend? In this frenzied situation the Court will have to determine the newspaper’s right to publish in relation to the individual’s rights for privacy claiming for the protection of the law.

 Hence Justice Domah is of view that the law does not allow him at this stage of the proceedings to discharge the interim order.  “The interim order did not gag the press nor did it muzzle it, nor did it have the effect of drawing a black screen. All it stated is what the respondents themselves apply daily,” he added.
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