Judiciary in the eye of the storm

2011-11-26 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Does the government now want to police these courts?

This was the question posed by Western Cape High Court judge Dennis Davis in response to the government’s plans to appoint a research institution to assess Constitutional Court judgments. This forms part of broader research in transformation of the judiciary.

Davis was addressing the Cape Press Club and speculated that this unusual step by the government could be aimed at politicising the courts. He said it is unavoidable that the contentious Protection of State Information Bill will have its turn in the Constitutional Court, but he did not, yet, want to give his opinion on the constitutionality of the the draft act.

Davis said South Africa’s courts find themselves in the midst of a political storm, and warned against an over-reliance on the courts to solve the country’s problems.

“The courts are being confronted with a discourse which I do not see as bound to the social-democratic nature of the Constitution.

“The constitutional ambition is being undermined by the shrill voices of both the neo-liberal rights and the populist lefts. Courts are then caught in the centre of a sterile ideological struggle. The judiciary is further weakened by criticism that does not focus on the substance of verdicts, but on personalities and not principles.”

Davis said he looks forward to more details from the Justice and Constitutional Development Department when it expands next week on the plan to study transformation of the judiciary.

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