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SCA ruling on Malema's Marikana statement 'a major victory'

The DA says the ruling reconfirms what other courts have found about freedom of speech in Parliament.

FILE: Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) being ejected from the Chambers during President Jacob Zuma's Question and Answer session, on 17 May 2016. Picture: Youtube Screengrab.

CAPE TOWN - The Democratic Alliance (DA) says a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling has again confirmed what opposition MPs have been saying about freedom of speech being "sacrosanct" in Parliament.

The court ruled on Friday that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema's statement that the ANC government had massacred Marikana miners was not "unparliamentary".

The SCA dismissed an appeal by National Council of Provinces Chairperson Thandi Modise, after the Western Cape High court ruled she was wrong to order Malema to leave the National Assembly in June 2014 for blaming the government for the deaths of 34 miners who were shot by police.

The SCA ruled that Modise had misconstrued her powers.

The court said that "even if Mr Malema had directed criticism at members of Parliament, the standing order still did not find application because his words were constitutionally protected political speech".

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, who has in the past accused Parliament's presiding officers of trampling on the right free speech in the House, says this ruling reconfirms what other courts have found.

"It's obviously a major victory but it's also not new, it's a reconfirmation of several other judgments that have come before. What we need now is for the presiding officers to start to heed those judgments."

DA leader Mmusi Maimane was forced to withdraw his reference to President Jacob Zuma as "accused number one" during a debate on the Presidency's Budget Vote this month.

Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli told MPs they were not allowed to quote from court judgments to attack another member's character.

"It's not acceptable to use such quotations and other such means to abuse other members or cast aspersions on the character of a person or another member," Tsenoli warned lawmakers after ruling Maimane's remarks out of order.

At the time, Steenhuisen vowed to challenge Tsenoli's ruling in court.

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