THE Judicial Services Commission is slowly dragging our stuffy Bench into the modern era, announcing that public hearings will be held to assess nominees for some of the positions on the new Constitutional Court. This is a significant step towards breaking down the antediluvian notion that judges are somehow above public scrutiny, criticism and accountability — a belief that still holds ground in an Appellate Division that looks with primitive horror on media, and particularly television, attention.
It is a pity that the JSC gave into this fear when it banned television cameras from the hearings. This means that justice will be seen to be done only by those who are prepared to go down to Bloemfontein to see it done. Any notion that television cameras may enlarge the public gallery and help ordinary people feel less alienated from the court system is far too modern for this commission. The public can watch — but not too closely.
Pity too that only six of the 11 appointees will undergo this scrutiny, somewhat unfairly since judges appointed to the supreme court under the apartheid government and now nominated for the Constitutional Court will escape it. The new South Africans will be grilled; the old are protected.One more decision, important in regard to transparency, is yet to be made. The new court will have to decide whether to allow its proceedings to be televised. Since there are no witnesses or accused in the dock that may need to be protected, there is little fear of the kinds of privacy invasions that characterised the OJ Simpson saga in the US. Televising the proceedings would go a long way to making this all-important court meaningful to South Africans.