JSC interviews: The good, bad and cringe-worthy

2014-10-08 21:30

Niren Tolsi

1. The Judicial Service Commission interviewed prospective judges for a position at the Eastern Cape High Court (Bhisho) and another at the Labour Court on the second day of its October sitting in Cape Town’s Twelve Apostles Hotel.

2. Historically, the candidates availing themselves for positions at the Eastern Cape division have ranged from inept through under-cooked to downright cringe-worthy. Such has been the poor quality of previous interviews that the commission has sometimes resembled a version of judicial speed-dating with some candidates’ interviews not lasting more than ten minutes.

3. During her interview today, advocate Chuma Cossie certainly fell into the cringe-worthy category with her assertion that national Parliament has sovereignty in South Africa’s Constitutional democracy. When advocate McCaps Motimele asked her, “Section Two of the Constitution refers to the supremacy of the Constitution, where do I find the sovereignty of Parliament?” Cossie muttered something about “semantics” before adding: “I don’t know where exactly to find that … The sovereignty of Parliament is common cause. Its trite.” Yeah, during apartheid maybe. Eish.

4. Magistrate Saardia Jacobs was back for her second interview for a position at the Eastern Cape High Court after having spent a few stints gaining acting experience. Commissioners appeared smitten by her feistiness during her October 2012 interview when she refused to concede an inch – especially on her lack of experience and assertion that there was little difference between the work of a magistrate and that of a judge. This time around, as feisty as ever, she did concede that the experience had been enriching, especially the “collegiality in the high court – something I had never been exposed to”.

5. Jacobs also admitted that the acting stints on the Eastern Cape Bench had “exposed me to work that I was never exposed to in the Magistrates’ Court”. A come-down – but one handled with grace and charm.

6. Despite Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng telling attorney Thembekile Malusi “I actually like you. I am impressed” it did come with the caveat that he go back to the Eastern Cape “embark on a serious cleaning up exercise” on a backlog of reserved judgments before availing himself again.

7. Malusi also had seven fines from the Law Society of South Africa in the space of two years.

8. Judge Nozuko Mjali broke down several times during an emotional interview where she was seeking a transfer from Mthatha to Bhisho – something the JSC does as often as commissioner Julius Malema smooches ANC leaders – for personal reasons. She didn’t get it, much to the chagrin of gender activists.

9. IFP MP Narend Singh, who replaced the party’s venerable Koos van der Merwe who retired earlier this year after serving since the very first post-1994 commission, seemed fixated around the scourge of drug use in South Africa – a topic that he engaged all candidates on. But he seemed to demonstrate a certain forgetfulness with his constant qualifications that he was “not a lawyer”. If the Honorouble Singh needed to constantly remind himself of the fact, one does wonder what he has been smoking.

10. Benita Whitcher was appointed to the Labour Court despite a fiery interview. But, it seems, the JSC can sometimes be unafraid of strong women.

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