Zuma ‘very happy’ with how judges are doing their jobs

2012-07-05 00:00

PRETORIA — President Jacob Zuma is very happy with the way judges are performing their task, and believes it is the task of the Constitutional Court to intervene if government policy is unconstitutional.

However, the Constitution must be strictly adhered to at all times and not tampered with unnecessarily, the president said in an interview with sister newspaper Beeld on Tuesday.

Zuma’s support of the Constitutional Court’s intervention in areas where government policy is deemed to be at odds with the letter and spirit of the Constitution (as in the ruling compelling government to supply antiretroviral medicine without delay) differs from his controversial statements in Parliament last year.

In a parliamentary speech last year Zuma said that as elected officials, the executive (the cabinet) had sole discretion to determine government policy.

He emphasised that the principle of the separation of powers meant that interference by one arm of the state in the territory of another should be discouraged.

That was during the debate when Parliament bade farewell to Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and welcomed his successor, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

The powers of the courts could not be regarded as elevated above those of a mandate from the people, Zuma said last year.

In another speech he claimed that some people who lost elections then wanted to co-govern through the courts.

When Beeld asked him during Tuesday’s interview how that squared with his current opinion, he emphasised that it was indeed in order, and desirable, for the Constitutional Court to measure legislation against the Constitution and to intervene when government policy clashed with the Constitution.

He said he was “very happy” with how the judiciary was functioning. But he was unhappy when, in his opinion, people hampered the functioning of the government by going to court, for example if the president appointed someone who had proved himself as director-general to a new position.

Although Zuma did not specifically mention Advocate Menzi Simelane’s appointment as national director of public prosecutions and the legal challenge brought by the Democratic Alliance in relation to that appointment, the reference was clearly to that case.

Zuma would not comment when asked whether he believed the courts were in danger of interfering with the presidential prerogative in some appointments.

But he did point out that courts do sometimes err, as successful appeals showed.

As for the controversial evaluation of rulings by the Appeal Court and Constitutional Court, Zuma said he believed people might fear that the independence of the judiciary would come under pressure as a result.

But that was not the intention, he said. The objective was to take stock through an independent investigation, to give credit where it was due, and to put forward proposals, as had already been done in the case of Parliament.

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