/ 6 October 2008

Judgement time for Concourt hopefuls

Pretoria High Court Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann has withdrawn from the race to succeed Constitutional Court Judge Tholakele Madala.

Bertelsmann was on the shortlist of judges released last Thursday by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which, in two weeks, will conduct interviews for about 17 judicial vacancies throughout the country, including Madala’s seat in the Constitutional Court.

Bertelsmann confirmed last week that he is no longer available for selection. ”Just confirm with the JSC, I have sent them a fax to say I will not be available this time around,” he said.

He gave no reasons for his decision, but indicated that he may apply next year, when four other Constitutional Court judges, including Chief Justice Pius Langa, retire.

Langa and three colleagues, judges Yvonne Mokgoro, Kate O’Regan and Albie Sachs, who were among the court’s founding members, are due to retire next September.

As expected, the shortlist includes two Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judges — Edwin Cameron and Chris Jafta — and acting SCA judge and Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo, who has also applied for a permanent position on the SCA.

The list also includes Johannesburg High Court and Labour Court of Appeal Judge Nigel Willis, Cape High Court and Land Claims Court Judge Shenaz Meer and Grahamstown High Court Judge Franklin Kroon.

Judges Ross Jones and Jeremy Pickering, also of the Eastern Cape Division, nominated Kroon, who recently completed an acting stint in the Constitutional Court.

According to the nomination letter submitted by the two judges Kroon is ”one of the longest-serving judges in courts of the land”.

Graaff-Reinet born Kroon first acted as a judge in 1983, becoming permanent about two years later.

The 67-year-old, married with three children, started out as a prosecutor in 1964 before becoming an advocate the following year.

In 1995 Kroon presided over a commission of inquiry into violence in the former homeland of Transkei and has also served in a part-time capacity as a judge in the Labour Court of Appeal. He is one of the judges who complained to the JSC about Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged attempt to influence two of his colleagues in ANC president Jacob Zuma’s favour.

Meer, the only woman on the list, is a former director of the Legal Resources Centre. A divorced mother of three, she was nominated by former Cricket South Africa president Norman Arendse.

”She has made significant contributions to the development of the law, both as a practitioner and as a judge,” said Arendse in support of her application.

Meer, daughter of sociologist and activist Fatima Meer, first cut her teeth in the legal industry as an articled clerk in the law firm of late justice minister Dullah Omar.

In 2003, after nine candidates for two Constitutional Court seats had been interviewed, Meer was one of five judges whose names were sent to then president Thabo Mbeki for consideration.

Judges Lewis Skweyiya and Johann van der Westhuizen were appointed ahead of Meer.

The 53-year-old holds a master of law degree from Warwick University and has a long history of community involvement and human rights litigation.

She has served on the Land Claims Court since 1996 and was appointed to the Cape High Court in 2003.

In an application over and above the required form, Cape Town-born Nigel Willis lists a series of Constitutional Court judgements he would have decided differently.

Advocate Nazeer Cassim, who nominated Willis, said in a letter supporting him: ”I have known Judge Willis for the past 25 years. He is a balanced individual, an excellent lawyer and jurist, and blends the principles of equity in the application of legal principles aptly and wisely.” Willis is married to former Mail & Guardian journalist Glenda Daniels and is the father of three.

He first worked for a major bank before pursuing a career in law. Appointed a judge in 1998, he was appointed to the Labour Court of Appeal a year later.