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Legalbrief   |   your legal news hub Monday 04 December 2023

Zille, Chief Justice clash at JSC

Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille clashed yesterday over what questions were allowed to be put to candidates during JSC interviews, notes a report in today's Business Day.

It says Zille had asked Brian Pincus SC, a candidate for the Western Cape High Court, whether there had ever been complaints to the Johannesburg Bar Council about him 'overreaching', or overcharging for his services. When he replied he had not heard the claim and was 'upset' to hear about it, Zille said this was contrary to her 'research'. Ngcobo said adverse comments should be put to candidates prior to the interview so that they could answer the allegations. Zille said that where adverse comments had been made about Pincus, it was 'critical in a forum like the JSC' that 'grave concerns' about a candidate were put to him - to give him a chance to respond. According to the report, the Chief Justice's response was: 'Can I make this thing clear to you, Premier?' He said the procedure at the JSC had always been that adverse comments should be put to candidates before the interview, so that they can be 'fully prepared'. Full Business Day report

Interviews for positions on the Western Cape Bench began in a cloud of confusion yesterday when a candidate attempted to explain a dispute over a High Court ruling she had written. At issue for Pakama Ngewu, a regional magistrate at Sasolburg, was a complaint about her handling of a Western Cape criminal appeal in August, which she heard as an acting judge along with Judge Andre le Grange. The complaint by Le Grange, which has been sent to the JSC, was that she had altered the judgment after it was handed down, notes a report on the IoL site. Commission members battled for most of her interview to make sense of her explanation of multiple drafts of the judgment. Ngewu told the commission she was permitted in law to amend a judgment after it had been delivered, and that the changes she made did not open new avenues of litigation. The paragraph she had inserted had not been one on which she and Le Grange had disagreed. 'I am not changing the essence of my judgment here because the order remains the same,' she said. 'Why I am amending my final judgment is to harmonise his (Le Grange's) judgment with mine. If... by any chance I may have made a mistake, then my apologies,' she said. Full report on the IoL site

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe said she had placed him in a 'dilemma' because he had told both her and Le Grange that 'to differ is acceptable', says a Business Day report. But if there was to be a different order, there could be no judgment and the two judges had to approach the Judge President. He said it was strange that she told the commission that she had never come across this before: 'I find it hard to believe that in the light of what I have just said.' He said she had come to him before the judgment was delivered about the fact that she and Le Grange had differed. But she said that discussion was only about when the two of them differed and not about the fact that Le Grange had written a different judgment. Zille questioned Ngewu for blaming her secretary (in connection with a draft of the judgment), saying it was a judge's responsibility to make sure she handed down the right order. Questions from commissioners came in thick and fast after that, notes the report. But as Ngewu tried to explain what happened, she seemed to confuse the commissioners more with each answer. After a long interchange with commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, he said he was 'no clearer than he had been before'. Full Business Day report