‘Review Concourt powers’

2012-02-14 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has defended his plan for the Constitutional Court, saying it was not the court itself, but its powers that he wanted to review.

However, critics viewed his latest comments, made in an interview published yesterday in The Star after his state of the nation address, as yet another attack on the judiciary’s independence.

University of Cape Town constitutional expert Professor Pierre de Vos said yesterday that if Zuma had been correctly quoted as saying “the powers of the court must be reviewed”, it was “absolutely senseless”.

“The Constitutional Court’s powers cannot be reviewed. Either the court has the power to declare legislation and the actions of the executive authority unconstitutional and to protect the rights of citizens, or the court has no right of existence.”

De Vos said the intention was that the review of the court’s judgments would have an influence on judges and it therefore created a threat to the independence of the judiciary and the constitutional order.

Former President F.W. de Klerk said yesterday he would write to Zuma to obtain clarity about his statement. He would do everything in his power to maintain the historical agreements reached during South Africa’s transition to democracy and in the drafting of the Constitution.

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said it believed a national dialogue about the Constitution was necessary, including its vision, its role in transformation and its protection of citizens’ rights.

The president was quoted as saying in the interview: “We don’t want to review the Constitutional Court, we want to review its powers.”

He also reportedly questioned the logic behind split judgments, asking how it could be said that a ruling was “absolutely correct when the judges themselves have different views about it”.

The Democratic Alliance earlier yesterday urged Zuma to respect the Constitution.

DA MP Dene Smuts said it was the fact that the executive itself had ordered the review, or wanted to undertake it, that was encouraging scepticism.

She suggested it was the president’s “irritation with some of the court’s judgments [that lie] at the root of the desire for review”.

Smuts warned that Zuma would find himself “on the path to a full-blown confrontation with the Constitutional Court if his remarks really mean what they seem to mean”.

The presidency later responded by saying that Zuma’s statements were made in the context of a cabinet decision last year to evaluate the impact of Constitutional Court judgments on the transformation of society. “It is not unusual and is commonly done,” said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj.

 

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