DA questions Cabinet's ConCourt assessments

Cabinet’s decision to assess the Constitutional Court’s judgments is “one of the strangest proposals to date”, Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts said on Thursday.

“It will inevitably be seen as a sinister attempt to bend the Bench to the executive and the ruling party’s will, especially given the recent spate of hostile comment from ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and Deputy Correctional Services Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and the fact that it is common knowledge that certain judgments are unpopular with the ANC,” she said.

Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said earlier on Thursday that the assessment would be part of a broader look at the transformation of the judicial system and the role of the judiciary in a developmental state.

He said that Cabinet, in its meeting on Wednesday, decided that transformation in the judicial system and the role of the judiciary in a developmental state would be assessed by a “reputable research institution”.

Threefold assessment
Manyi said that the assessment would be threefold. Firstly, to ensure that the judiciary “conforms to the transformation mandate as envisaged in the Constitution”, in terms of non-racialism, gender, disability, and other transformational variables.

Secondly, to access justice on all levels of the courts, from the lower courts through to the Constitutional Court.

Thirdly, it would affirm the independence of the judiciary as well as that of the executive and Parliament to promote independence and the interface necessary to realise transformation goals as envisaged by the Constitution.

Manyi said that Cabinet agreed on a specific approach to the transformation of the judicial system and that measures would be taken to enhance the efficiency and integrity of the Judicial Service Commission and the Magistrates’ Commission in carrying out their constitutional mandate of facilitating the racial, gender and other constitutional prescripts in the judiciary.

He added that an appropriate framework would be established to regularly monitor implementation of court decisions by all state departments.

Smuts reacts to ‘strange proposal’
In reaction, Smuts said: “Cabinet’s decision to subject the judgments of the Constitutional Court to research ... how they have influenced inter alia socio-economic transformation must rate as one of its strangest proposals to date.”

She said the courts were not an instrument of government policy with output that could be measured on performance indicators and other governance criteria.

“They are there to give authoritative interpretation of the Constitution and the law.”

She found it difficult to believe that Justice Minister Jeff Radebe would have come up with the idea as he had consistently respected the doctrine of separation of powers.

The assessment was reminiscent of the national planning commission’s “Vision 2030”, which suggested that “progressive” judges should be appointed against the background of the country’s socio-economic context.

She asked whether candidates would have to demonstrate progressive political or economic credentials.

Comment was not immediately available from the JSC or from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who leads the Constitutional Court.—Sapa

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