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Bizos warns govt on judiciary

2011-12-09 22:44

Cape Town - Veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos fired a blunt warning at the government on Friday not to undermine the judiciary, saying this had been a trademark of the apartheid regime and its predecessors.

Receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria, Bizos said he wanted to weigh in on a public debate which had seen "unfair, unjust and uninformed criticism" levelled at the Constitution and the courts.

Bizos took issue with a recent remark by President Jacob Zuma that the executive had the sole discretion to decide policies for the government.

Citing fellow lawyer Geoff Budlender, he said: "The theory that the executive has a monopoly of wisdom on policy questions, based on a democratic mandate, strikes me as somewhat remote from reality."

Bizos said last week's appeal court ruling invalidating the appointment of Menzi Simelane as national prosecutions chief "serves as a reminder that the president is not above the law".

Former president Nelson Mandela had shown no hesitation in abiding by a Constitutional Court ruling that overturned a law giving him the power to amend legislation by proclamation.

"The same day, Mr Mandela rushed to the television and radio stations of the SABC and declared... that he respected the decision of the Constitutional Court and appealed to all concerned to similarly accept the court's decision.

"What a pity that some of Mr Mandela's successors have not followed his example."

In an acceptance speech that read in part like a history lesson, Bizos said tension between the judiciary and the executive went back to the 19th century.

Contempt

He recalled that Paul Kruger, the president of the old South African Republic, had infamously tried to do away with the testing right of courts, calling it "a principle of the devil".

Likewise, the apartheid regime had reacted with contempt when the appellate division struck down legislation disenfranchising coloured voters and passed a law enabling Parliament to review any such ruling.

"I hope that our current ruling party does not intend to follow either the regime's example or that of President Kruger, but I do have some concerns," Bizos said.

"The courts, as well as the individuals and organisations that bring human rights cases against the executive, to whom some impute false motives, have been subject to severe criticisms bordering on demonisation."

He added: "All power, whether of Parliament, the executive, or the courts, must be exercised in accordance with the Constitution, which is the final word on the powers and roles of each branch.

"Judges' interpretations support the rule of law, not executive whims, and judicial review allows courts to declare law or conduct that is inconsistent with the Constitution to be invalid."

Bizos said he was concerned at Cabinet's plans to assess the decisions of the Constitutional Court, and believed it was unnecessary as judgments were the subject of free public debate.

"Any such body may be construed as a challenge to the independence of the judiciary... At this stage there are more questions than answers."

Most importantly, for what purpose and to what end was this body to be established?

"There is no reason to establish a new oversight body not provided for in the Constitution."

Bizos is among the authors of the Constitution, whom he said on Friday Mandela had instructed to pen a supreme law that was good for all South Africans and not just the ruling party.

The state now had a duty to apply and respect it, he said.

"The Constitution can only provide a state with tools to govern. How those tools are used depends on those elected to govern."

Comments
  • Geronimo - 2011-12-09 22:53

    Good on you Bizos. The ultimate irony is exactly what you say - the Apartheid regime manipulated the Courts and installed puppet Judges, and now the ANC is doing the same... At least some within the dictator party are standing up and being counted on this important issue.

      Walter - 2011-12-10 06:17

      I see one lone "thumbs down" to what Geronimo said! Idiot! Geronimo is absolutely right and we must show the rest of the world that The Constitution of our country is sacred and must never be changed. Make sure you vote wisely and our country must NEVER become a "one party" state. The judiciary must always have the final say!

      Sheda - 2011-12-10 17:09

      I lived under apartheid and I am telling you "do not worry" because I, together with thousands of others will NEVER let Apartheid, JuJu or any South African who turns dirty rule in this country. Twitter & BB Rule not politicians.

      Sharkshoot - 2011-12-10 21:23

      'I lived under Apartheid'....and I bet you lived like a king Mr Forked Tongue. I bet Bizos never thought he'd ever see the day that he had to weigh in with his 'influence' to try and bring some measure of reason and common sense to the Banana Republicans running the country into the ground.

  • Mark - 2011-12-09 22:54

    When your dearest friends turn on you, you should take note.

  • Marius Koen - 2011-12-09 23:16

    "What a pity that some of Mr Mandela's successors have not followed his example." You can say that again.

      Sheik - 2011-12-09 23:48

      Did you ever think they would follow the old man. Watch this space when he dies, boy, these guys are going to go around cutting each others throats

  • Sheik - 2011-12-09 23:44

    Bizos, you supported these fools for most of your life, don't start crying foul now. You knew it was coming.

      Mike - 2011-12-09 23:57

      He has never supported interference with the Judiciary, he is standing up for our democracy and independence of the judiciary what part of that don't you follow? What a hollow comment!

      Moduto - 2011-12-23 17:15

      @ Sheik, supporting someone/ an organization for a good cause is nothing to complain about. It is time that we salute ppl like Mr Bizos and uphold thier principles. And for a change what is it that we are doing do make our country great in our little corners.

  • Joseph - 2011-12-09 23:55

    Tell the judiciary to do the right thing,warning the governmant will not help but educating the educated to do the right thing will go a long way in preserving our democracy and the indepence of of our judiciary.

      Ibhubesi - 2011-12-10 00:04

      Wise words Joseph!

      Gail - 2011-12-10 10:32

      The judiciary is an independent body which should have no particular political affiliation. No single person, including the Executive President (who is not elected by a majority even from the ruling party but by a bevy of cadres affiliated for personal gain to said incumbent, none of whom take any responsibility for wrongdoing or mistakes on their part) should attempt to meddle with a Constitution. The sole purpose of a Judiciary is to determine the legality of a particular matter in an open manner and when someone wants to start investigating our sacred Constitution one can be sure that the motivation behind it is selfish and nefarious and amounts almost to treason. We might not always like the result of the deliberations and conclusions drawn by our judiciary, however these men are the finest minds in the country and do not make decisions lightly regarding the laws of our land. The decisions they take are based on laws which were laid down by the best minds from all of society including Mandela and they reflect the needs and rules by which society as a whole can be best governed impartially. Every nuance and word in that Constitution is studied singly and then in context of the sentence and paragraph by all those tasked with doing so before a decision is taken as to whether it would be beneficial to ALL citizens incl. President Zuma to allow changes to be made to any aspect of our judiciary including the composition of those who interpret those laws.Logic before affiliation

  • TaniaSandraSteyn - 2011-12-10 02:41

    What astounds me is the ignorance of educated people in our Country: 'Don't talk politics, don't spoil my day, there's nothing we can do to change the status quo' - down the river of ignorance and apathy we all flow.

      Bob - 2011-12-10 07:57

      Not entirely true...! But factual to the current apathetic status quo, never the less...Well said!

  • raymond.kok3 - 2011-12-10 04:24

    mr Bizos i think you should not hang up your robe yet i know you are going to need it soon

  • Peter - 2011-12-10 06:57

    This so called government does have a clue, Zuma is just covering his backside from all angles, someone do something as we are brcoming a banana republic quicker than we really think, these clowns running if already have thier monies and loot out of the country

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