'Give blacks, females a chance'
Cape Town - New Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo said black and female lawyers and judges must be given the opportunity to gain the necessary experience to allow them to take up senior positions.
"The fact is that people have not been given the opportunity to get that experience. What we should be looking at is the potential," he said.
"How can we level the playing fields and make sure?" Ngcobo asked, as he chaired Judicial Service Commission interviews of candidates for two vacancies on the Supreme Court of Appeals, his first task since succeeding Pius Langa as chief justice.
Ngcobo made the remarks after acting SCA judge, Eric Leach, said he believed the single most important criteria to serve on the appellant court was experience.
Experience 'is most important'
"I think experience is the most overpowering quality in a judge," he told members of the JSC.
Leach was responding to questions from advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza about judicial transformation, who said the courts were still an area of "unbalance and disequalibrium".
Leach answered that he did not think he had been invited on more than one occasion to act at the SCA because he was a white male.
He added that he was not responsible for the fact that others had not been invited for lack of experience.
"I am a South African and I'm proud to be one.
"Does it matter what the shape of my face, the length of my hair or the colour of my skin is?"
'On our way to promised land'
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said this reminded him of the rhetoric of US civil rights icon Martin Luther King Junior. Leach responded that he believed that much had been achieved in the way of transformation in the South African judiciary in the past two decades.
"If we are not quite in the 'promised land', we are a long way toward it," he said.
One of two women to be interviewed for a position at the SCA on Monday was Judge Zukisa Tshiqi from the South Gauteng High Court who agreed that transformation was on track.
"We are getting there, as long as we are consistent, as long as we continue at the rate and pace at which we are moving," she said.
The JSC will on Tuesday interview for the south and north Gauteng division.
Other candidates for the SCA included South Gauteng deputy judge president Jerry Shongwe and KwaZulu-Natal judge, Malcolm Wallis.