Radebe cautious over Constitution’s amendment

2012-02-28 14:11

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe today said a possible amendment of the Constitution would be a bridge the government crossed once an assessment of the judiciary had been completed.

He was speaking at press conference in Cape Town, where the government’s new discussion document on transformation in the judiciary was made public.

Radebe defended recent government criticism of the judiciary, saying “criticism of the court’s decision is both permissible and desirable” in a constitutional democracy.

He said fears that the ANC was attempting to undermine the judiciary were unfounded, and the result of “irresponsible commentary”.

The document was adopted by Cabinet in November, and is an attempt to assess the transformation of the judicial system in SA.

In a subsequent interview with The Star newspaper, President Jacob Zuma said a “review the powers” of the Constitutional Court was necessary.

“How could you say that the judgment is absolutely correct when the judges themselves have different views about it?” Zuma said.

His comments drew widespread criticism from opposition parties and rights groups, with the Black Lawyers’ Association last week saying a review by Cabinet “seems to lack appreciation of the basic tenets underlying the doctrine of separation of powers”.

But Radebe today said the “Constitution is an embodiment of the values that the ANC stood and fought for ... including the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law”.

He said this reassurance came against a “backdrop of irresponsible commentary that has been published recently, which is intended to instil fear that the ANC is hellbent on revoking fundamental rights and freedoms”.

Radebe said the discussion document was an overview of “protracted debate and negotiations within the judicial sector and legal profession”, and that the time was now “opportune to initiate a national dialogue on the fundamental principle of judicial reform”.

Part of government’s review of transformation in the judiciary would be an assessment of the “impact of the decisions of the Constitutional Court”, he said.

Radebe said this assessment was necessary to “unlock challenges that have the potential to undermine the transformation goals that are intended to nourish our constitutional democracy”.

He said Cabinet envisaged an assessment in which one or more research institutions would undertake a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Constitutional Court’s decisions on:

» transformation of the state and society;

» the impact of its decisions on all branches the law; and

» the capacity of the judiciary and that of the courts in building a South African jurisprudence in line with the constitution, and which would assess the capacity of the state in all its spheres to implement transformative laws.

Radebe said the government expected the assessment to be completed within 18 months.

Asked if there would be a possible reduction of the Constitutional Court’s power, Radebe said: “We have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”

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