/ 27 July 2011

Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo hangs up his gavel

Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo Hangs Up His Gavel

Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo will not accept an extension to his current term of office and will retire in August, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe announced at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.

“Chief Justice Ngcobo said he found it undesirable for a chief justice to be party in litigation involving the question of whether or not he should continue to hold office as this detracts from the integrity of the office of the chief justice and the esteem in which it is held,” Radebe said.

Radebe said President Zuma accepted Ngcobo’s decision and will immediately initiate the process to appoint a new chief justice.

“On August 15 there will be a new chief justice in South Africa. President Zuma accepted the resignation and will fill the position before the end of [Ngcobo’s] term in office,” Radebe said.

When he steps down, Ngcobo will have served for 12 years as a Constitutional Court judge, the term originally allowed for under section 176 of the Constitution, which states that only an Act of Parliament can extend the term of a judge of the court.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet approved a Bill amending section 8 of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act, underwriting President Jacob Zuma’s decision in early June to extend Ngcobo’s term for five years.

Zuma’s initial move sparked a Constitutional Court challenge by civil society organisations — the Justice Alliance of South Africa, Freedom under Law, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution — who argued that this was unconstitutional, as it delegated to the president the power to decide whether to extend the term of a chief justice, which amounted to an improper relationship between the executive and judiciary, thereby contravening the constitutionally enshrined separation of powers.

After Radebe’s announcement, President Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj said he now saw no reason for the matter before the Constitutional Court to continue.

“I don’t see the point in litigation anymore. Similarly in Parliament, is the bill needed any more?” said Maharaj.

President Jacob Zuma has nominated Constitutional Court judge Mogoeng Mogoeng as the new Chief Justice. For more news on the controversy surrounding the appointment click here.