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Minister denies ANC lobbying at JSC

Publish date: 30 April 2012
Issue Number: 3024
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: General

The announcement of the JSC's nominations of judges has raised concerns that it is becoming increasingly political and executive-minded in its functioning, says a Mail & Guardian report.

It adds there are also worries that there is lobbying and caucusing behind closed doors over who the candidates should be - a situation denied by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe (see report below).The M&G report says that according to senior figures in the legal fraternity, this has reinforced the perception that decisions are often caucused behind closed doors by blocs, resulting in favoured candidates and fait accompli appointments. Wim Trengove SC pointed to the 'inexplicable' failure by the JSC to appoint well-respected, high-calibre candidates such as Geoff Budlender and Jeremy Gauntlett. 'This creates the impression that the JSC has its own agenda,' said Trengove, who served as a JSC commissioner during the first five years of its existence. During his stint, which started in 1994, 'the culture was that you voted with your conscience, not your constituency, for the truly best candidates ... We didn't caucus behind closed doors or lobby, which is the impression one has now,' Trengove said. The report notes there is a perception that a powerful ANC-aligned bloc has consolidated around Radebe, who, with the three ANC members from the Parliament, four ANC members from the National Council of Provinces and four presidential appointees, constitute a powerful platform from which to launch preferred judges. Full Mail & Guardian report

Radebe denied dictating appointments to the bench. A report in The Citizen quotes Radebe, who reportedly said: 'I am not aware of a political voting block in the JSC. After deliberations in the JSC, the vote is by secret ballot, so I do not know what the other members... vote.' He was speaking to Parliament's Justice Committee. 'As a result, I am not in charge of a political voting block, nor am I aware of anybody who is in charge of a political voting block,' he added. Radebe was responding to a question from DA MP Dene Smuts, who suggested that political interference dissuaded capable candidates from applying for positions on the Bench 'because they know what the outcome will be'. Full report in The Citizen

The latest round of interviews did nothing to dispel the view that recommended appointments are seen to be predetermined, according to Chris Oxtoby and Tabeth Masengu, researchers in the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at UCT, in an article in The Sunday Independent. Noting several interviews were extremely short - in some cases between five and 15 minutes - the writers suggest observers were left feeling that the questions asked of candidates did not do much to establish their suitability for appointment. They suggest that if this is indicative of behind-the-scenes instructions or directions being given to the JSC on how to conduct the interviews, these should be made public. 'It does not enhance the credibility of the interview process for the JSC to race through interviews in a fraction of the allocated time.' The writers also note that the JSC'S deliberations appear to be much shorter than has previously been the case and wonder whether this indicates the JSC is not taking the necessary time to build sufficient consensus before voting. Full article in The Sunday Independent (subscription needed)