/ 18 September 2009

D-Day for Concourt candidates

Intense lobbying has produced clear frontrunners for the four Constitutional Court positions that will open up when Chief Justice Pius Langa and judges Yvonne Mokgoro, Albie Sachs and Kate O’Regan retire next month.

The Judicial Service Commission’s grilling of candidates kicks off in Soweto on Sunday. President Jacob Zuma’s nomination for chief justice, Sandile Ngcobo, is first up at 9am.

The appointment of four new judges will constitute the largest shake-up of the Constitutional Court since its formation in 1994.

The JSC has not published the criteria it uses to make appointments. But an “ideal” South African judge, according to the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town, should display commitment to the Constitution, independence of mind, impartiality, high standards of ethics and honesty and judicial temperament.

The Mail & Guardian understands that black appointments will dominate the JSC’s selections and that women will be appointed to the positions Mokgoro and O’Regan will vacate. The JSC will present seven candidates to Zuma, who will then select four.

M&G legal sources tip the following seven applicants as frontrunners:

Mandisa Maya
A quiet and unassuming personality, the Supreme Court of Appeal judge started on the Eastern Cape Bench in 1999. A former Fulbright scholar at Duke University in the United States, she sat as part of the full appeal court Bench that overturned Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment in the case of the National Prosecuting Authority against Zuma. She is deputy president of the International Association of Women Judges (South Africa Chapter).

Sisi Khampepe
Previously the deputy director of public prosecutions, she headed the commission former president Thabo Mbeki set up to consider the mandate of the Scorpions.

She holds an LLM from Harvard University, has been on the Bench since 2002 and was appointed to the Labour Appeal Court in 2007. Her perceived closeness to Ngcobo, as well as the respect she has earned as a South Gauteng High Court judge, should soon see her sitting in the highest court.

Leona Theron
This self-described budding poet was first appointed to the Bench in 1999 at the age of 33. Her decade of experience should help her attain either a Concourt post or the judge presidency of KwaZulu-Natal.

John Hlophe
Once tipped to be chief justice, Hlophe was overlooked when Zuma opted for Ngcobo. His supporters still believe he’s a future chief justice — but will Ngcobo be happy to have such a divisive but obviously politically connected judge beneath him?

Some legal sources say Ngcobo steered around this prospect when he negotiated his way into his new job, but Hlophe’s supporters say it is not Ngcobo’s decision to make. So Hlophe’s interview this weekend should be riveting — if he shows up. Read How will Hlophe answer

Raymond Zondo
The judge president of the Labour Court and Labour Appeals Court is a respected labour lawyer, but some question his experience in constitutional law. He is thought to have managed the labour courts efficiently, however.

Dennis Davis
The only white judge president in the country heads up the highly specialised Competition Appeals Court and also serves on the Western Cape Bench. Respected for his ­adjudication skills, he is an out­spoken defender of the rule of law and the judiciary and has published extensively in most areas of the law.

Eberhardt Bertelsmann
The North Gauteng High Court judge is perceived as carrying no political baggage, and his unflinching principles have caught the attention of some in the ruling ANC. He recently heard the urgent ANC interdict against Cope on the use of various names associated with the ruling party.

He has also given media-friendly judgments, such as turning down the Health Department’s application to interdict Carte Blanche from broadcasting a programme exposing ill-treatment of patients at a government health facility.