Efforts to transform the judiciary have failed

The General Council of the Bar (GCB) has admitted that efforts to transform the judiciary have failed, and will establish a transformation committee to monitor transformation progress in its constituent bars.

The GCB bemoaned what it called the failure of government’s objectives to transform the judiciary, as well the failure of its own transformation initiatives, in a statement issued on Wednesday. 

It said there had been resistance to transformation efforts in the established attorneys’ profession.

In 2014, about 50% of the judiciary was black, but just 15% were women. Yet experts have frequently said that transforming the judiciary is more than a bean-counting exercise.

Cathi Albertyn, a professor of law at the University of the Witwatersrand, told the Mail & Guardian previously that having women on the bench was important for “representivity and legitimacy”.

“A transformed Bench is a legitimate Bench. You must see that there are people there that are like you and that’s critical,” she said.

While the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has taken steps to ensure greater transformation of the Bench, experts point to various barriers to entry that prevent lawyers who are not white and male from advancing in the profession.

Lawson Naidoo of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution told the M&G previously: “There is an old boys’ network that tends to discriminate against women and the ‘tap on the shoulder’ method of nominating candidates still happens, particularly when acting judges are appointed.”

Albertyn said that while some judges president had made a concerted effort to ensure more female judges were invited to act, there were many reasons why women did not apply for senior positions. 

The GCB passed its resolution on transformation of the judiciary at its annual general meeting in Cape Town on July 18. In its resolution, the GCB acknowledged that its efforts to transform the Bench had failed to transform the advocate’s profession.


“Generally speaking, our transformation initiatives have been met with reluctance and resistance on the part of some of our members and certain members of the established attorney’s profession broadly, to empower black and female advocates,” the Bar’s statement read.  

The Bar resolved to monitor the transformation efforts of its constituent members and report on progress at its executive committee meetings.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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