Judge defends her private life

2009-09-22 14:15

Johannesburg - High court Judge Kathleen Satchwell dealt swiftly with a complaint that her sexuality made her an unsuitable candidate for the Constitutional Court, when she was interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in Soweto on Tuesday.

“My private life is my private life…” said Satchwell, in response to a complaint by the Society for the Protection of the Constitution.

The society’s Zehir Omar, a lawyer, had complained that “god fearing” people would not accept a lesbian as a judge.

Their concern was put to her by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who, in the tradition of “declaration” had told the commissioners that he had known her for many years and that she had represented him when he was on a hunger strike whilst a political prisoner on Robben Island.

Satchwell had to step into the hot seat earlier than expected after Judge Ntsikelelo Phoswa withdrew, citing his age - he is 70.

Satchwell said that in the 13 years she had been a judge, nobody had ever asked her recusal because of her private life, nor had it been argued in appeals on her work.

Constitutional values


The only time it had been a public matter was when she had to approach the court personally to get her benefits extended to her partner.

The Constitution included everyone, and if people saw diversity in the Constitutional Court, this was a triumph of the new society over apartheid.

“So I would suggest that Mr Omar and all South Africans looks for commitment to constitutional values.”

If they find them in her, then all other things have no meaning in her practice as a judge.

Satchwell had earlier spoken about her studies and her life’s work which ranged from studying anthropology and African languages before doing further studies in law, her work with anti-apartheid organisation the Black Sash, and her testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She runs a trust, using an inheritance, with projects that include providing study space at the Johannesburg public library, the purchase of donkeys and donkey cars for use by women in an extremely isolated village in the Eastern Cape to take pensioners to paypoints or the clinics, as well as helping an 11-year-old with his homework on Saturday mornings.

Judgments

Satchwell was also asked about the time she sentenced a nurse to the end of the court session for murdering her abusive husband.

She felt this was the most appropriate sentence given that she had already spent time in prison and that she was a nurse who could help in the community.

After Satchwell, Judge Willie Seriti was asked why he did not disclose that he is the country's judge that allows phone taps.

This followed an article in The Star that he might have authorised the taps that contributed to President Jacob Zuma's corruption trial being abandoned.

Seriti said he did not disclose it because he felt it was against the law to do so.

He was followed by Judge Nigel Willis, who gave a dissenting judgment in whether Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe's complaint and counter-complaint relating to Constitutional Court judges should proceed.

Two judges declared the previous proceedings invalid, while Willis thought they should go ahead.

- SAPA

Read more on:    jsc  |  judiciary
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