Kriegler: Don't sacrifice judicial independence

Former Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler has warned that judicial independence should not be sacrificed on the “altar of transformation”.

Kriegler, who was giving a public lecture at Wits University on Tuesday evening, said the spirit of transformation was not supposed to jeopardise judicial independence, the Star reported.

“Judicial independence may not be sacrificed on the altar of transformation; and on the altar of transformation, judicial independence must survive,” said Kriegler.

“Transformation is a disguise. It’s a threat that mainly emanates from outside but some threats have been from within.”

The external threats came mainly from the government.

“There’s a much more ominous undertone to the noise being made by politicians about the judiciary,” said Kriegler.

Kriegler cited the controversy surrounding Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe—who has been accused of trying to interfere in a Constitutional Court judgement related to President Jacob Zuma—as a symptom of the problems in the judiciary.

“Judge Hlophe is not the problem; he is the manifestation of the problem. He evidences the underlying problems [in the judiciary].”

Kriegler said Zuma’s “tight-fisted” announcement that Judge Sandile Ngcobo had been nominated as the new chief justice, despite a group of people pushing for Hlophe to be appointed in that position, made matters worse.

“The Presidency’s tight-fisted announcement on the new chief justice has not made it easier. My heart goes out to Sandile Ngcobo for having his party spoilt before it even started.”

Kriegler also criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), tasked with interviewing candidates for judges and probing the claims against Hlophe.

He said some of the questions posed by the JSC during interviews of candidates were irrelevant, such as which parties they belonged to.

Also, the issues of gender and ethnicity had been given precedence over the ability to do the job.

“I have had good friends serve at the JSC, people for whom I have the utmost respect. I don’t want anything I say to be tarnished as a backlash ... I admire all of them, but the institution has become an impediment rather than an aid,” said Kriegler.

Meanwhile, three opposition parties on Tuesday urged President Zuma to reconsider his nomination for chief justice and give the job to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

In a joint statement, the Democratic Alliance, the Congress of the People and the Independent Democrats said Moseneke was “a more suitable candidate” and a “wise and humble jurist” with a fierce commitment to the independence of the judiciary.

The three parties again accused Zuma of failing to consult them before making public his nomination of Ngcobo for the post earlier this month.

For this reason, they said, they were putting out a statement giving their views rather than communicating them to the president in private.—Sapa

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