Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said the government will commission a study on how ConCourt rulings have impacted on the law, the state and citizens.
The government will commission a study on how Constitutional Court rulings have impacted on the law, the state and the lives of citizens, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Tuesday.
The announcement came in the wake of a remark by President Jacob Zuma earlier this month that the government wanted to review the powers of the court.
However, Radebe downplayed the president’s comment and said the project was not aimed at curtailing the court’s powers, but formed part of overall efforts to transform the judiciary.
“The independence of the judiciary is not at stake,” he said, adding that successive ANC governments had established an impeccable record of compliance with court rulings.
Radebe said the study on the Constitutional Court would be undertaken by research institutions, but the project should deliver “implementable rather than academic solutions to problems that risked undermining transformation”.
The terms of reference are still to be announced.
Apart from the Constitutional Court assessment, Cabinet had also agreed to establish a mechanism to monitor the way in which government departments implemented court decisions.
It also wanted to create a forum for regular discussions between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature on how they could pursue “a common transformative goal”.
“These recommendations, including the assessment of the decisions of the Constitutional Court, are with a view to developing clear and concise recommendations that are necessary to unlock challenges that have the potential to undermine the transformation goals that are intended to nourish our constitutional democracy,” the minister said.
Asked what these challenges were, he said: “All of us are geared towards creating a better life for all South Africans, so all branches of the state have to play a role in this endeavour.”
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said Radebe’s announcement had shed little light on what the government wanted to achieve by analysing the work of the Constitutional Court.
“It does not actually say what the review is for. It is very vague about what the outcome of the review will actually be. We don’t know what the criteria for the review are going to be, or who is going to deliver it.”
De Vos said he believed it was important to have a dialogue about the management of the judiciary but having one, as the Cabinet decision indicated, about the outcome of Constitutional Court cases, could compromise the separation of powers.
Zuma told the Star newspaper in an interview this month: “We don’t want to review the Constitutional Court; we want to review its powers.”
Asked to explain the president’s remark, Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel cautioned against stifling debate on the Constitutional Court.
He went on to suggest that Zuma’s call for a review should be seen in the context of the Constitution 17th Amendment Bill—which would enhance the Constitutional Court’s powers by making it the apex court on all matters. The Bill is currently being debated by Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice.
But the Democratic Alliance said Radebe’s announcement confirmed its fears that the “government may be attempting to co-opt the courts”.
“The extent to which the court’s decisions are implemented by government comes as an afterthought instead of being the primary focus of any study,” DA justice spokesperson Dene Smuts said.
“As always the plight of the poor is partially used as the rationale for the exercise.”—Sapa