Wine industry disappointed in court ruling

Vinpro disappointed in court ruling on trade restrictions 

Vinpro is extremely disappointed in the Cape High Court’s ruling in the court case in which the wine industry body disputed Government’s approach to restrictions on liquor trade within the Disaster Management Act.

The three points argued during Vinpro’s court case, which was heard from 23 to 25 August 2021, included Vinpro’s argument regarding the structure of Government (provincial vs national), an interim application asking to take evidence regarding the third wave into account, as well as the issue of mootness since the ban had been partially lifted at the time.

The court, however, refused Vinpro’s application to introduce new evidence, found the application as moot, as the regulations has since changed, dismissed the structure of Government argument and determined that each party should be liable for their own legal costs.

“We are extremely disappointed in the ruling,” says Rico Basson, Vinpro MD. “Government’s blunt approach, unwillingness to consult and lack of transparency regarding the empirical data used in decision-making, has caused irreversible damage to the wine and tourism industry. The industry has not only lost more than R10 billion in sales revenue, but also seen significant job losses and suffered international reputational damage. The only way for wine-related businesses to recover and rebuild is by creating an enabling environment for sustainable growth. This includes government policies that are based on thorough and transparent empirical data and are consistently implemented and strictly enforced.”

In response to the judges’ criticism of Vinpro over the timing of its court applications, Basson said that Vinpro always submitted its applications and court documents timeous and on an urgent basis, but did not have control over when the applications would be heard. “To our utmost frustration, we were at the mercy of a legal process over which we had no control. The court repeatedly unilaterally postponed the hearing dates, or reserved judgment until after restrictions on liquor sales had been lifted.”

Vinpro is also concerned that the court has bent over backwards to accommodate the Government respondents and has not provided clarity on important issues raised by Vinpro, especially in respect of Government’s blunt approach to dealing with lockdowns, instead of a nimble, provincial based approach.

The court erred in finding that Vinpro made the concession that by temporarily reducing the consumption, this does protect the healthcare system. Vinpro in fact emphasised that it remains the responsibility of Government to create capacity in health care and use targeted interventions to reduce the impact on lives and livelihoods.

Although Vinpro is currently considering whether to apply for leave to appeal the judgement, the initial advice that Vinpro has received is that an appeal, should leave be granted, will not achieve much as the appeal will, in all probability, only be heard in the second half of 2022. Vinpro, however, reserves the right to again approach the court on an urgent basis should it be deemed necessary.

“We want to confirm that the industry continue to work closely with role players on various levels to help Government make informed, fact-based decisions with regard to liquor trade, while our businesses also have all the necessary measures in place to keep our employees, clients and visitors safe. We now have the opportunity to show that we can stand together against Covid-19 to keep our industry open.”

Rico Basson: “Vinpro is also concerned that the court has bent over backwards to accommodate the Government respondents.”

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