Spy bosses have faced tough questions over their use of an apartheid law to justify withholding court documents from the public, writes Karyn Maughan in The Star.

Justice Albie Sachs on Thursday described the 1982 Protection of Information Act, used by the Intelligence Department to support the suppression of documents filed during axed spy boss Billy Masetlha's court battle with President Thabo Mbeki, as a "paranoid document… totally at variance with the spirit of democracy".

"Normally we like to function openly… We don't like secret justice," he said.

Independent Newspapers launched a legal challenge to the suppression of the documents during the Constitutional Court hearing of Masetlha's case, after journalists were denied access to his and the state's written arguments.

'We don't like secret justice'
It then emerged that the court's judges had themselves issued an instruction that the documents be taken off their website in the mistaken belief that they were all classified.

Justice Sachs said this incident was "not a comfortable experience". He added: "We don't look through the documents to see if they should go on the Web or not. There are no stamps, there are no signals saying 'be alarmed, be careful, this shouldn't go'."

Following Independent Newspapers' application, the Constitutional Court ordered that all the documents could be released, barring any objection from Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils.

It was then – after failing to protest when the documents were filed and open to the public in the Pretoria High Court – that Kasrils asked that 12 documents not be released. He argued on the basis that they were classified and should be withheld on the grounds of national security.

After discovering that seven of the documents had been released, however, Kasrils later focused his objection on the other five documents.

While Justice Zak Yacoob slammed the Intelligence Ministry's response as "irresponsible", Justice Sachs suggested that it would be advisable for some notice to be given when court documents were to be withheld from the public.

Click here to read the full report, posted on iol.co.za.