Radebe defends Ngcobo's term extension
Cape Town - Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Tuesday praised Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo for "doing a bloody good job" and said government would oppose an expected legal challenge to the extension of his term.
"We believe Wits [University of the Witwatersrand] is wrong in fact and in law and we will resist any legal challenge from the Centre for Applied Legal Studies," Radebe told a media briefing ahead of the justice budget vote in Parliament.
"We believe we are on solid legal ground.
"Judge Ngcobo, ever since 2009, has showed that the doubting Thomases were wrong. We believe he is the best chief justice around and he is doing a bloody good job."
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which is based at the University of the Witwatersrand, says section 8(a) of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act is "unconstitutional and invalid".
The provision was used last week by President Jacob Zuma to reappoint Ngcobo for another five years but the centre claims it violates the constitutional guarantee of the independence of the judiciary.
It has signalled that it will challenge the president's decision and called on others to join.
The issue was raised by several speakers in the justice budget debate, just after the briefing.
Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts said she has for some time supported the extension of Ngcobo's term of office "because he will ensure the institutional independence and in time even the management of the courts".
Act of Parliament
But she added that section 176 (1) of the Constitution demands that it be done by an act of Parliament, advancing the same argument as the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.
"It is a pity that the Arthur Chaskalson Act has been used for this purpose and has now caused a challenge."
ANC MP John Jeffery disagreed, saying section 176 was satisfied because by using a provision of the Judges' Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act, passed in 2001, Zuma was acting in accordance with an act of Parliament.
He said he found it was strange that every speaker in the debate who raised the issue, had no problem with Ngcobo but wanted to challenge his position because they disagreed with the process followed.
"I don't know why we have to waste this money on litigation," he said.
"I don't know why we have to damage the image of the chief justice as person who was wrongly appointed. I hope that this matter does not become a matter that parties politic over and I hope that everybody will treat the chief justice with the respect he deserves."
Radebe reiterated in his response to the debate that "nothing has been done which is procedurally wrong".
At present section 176 limits the terms of Constitutional Court judges to a non-renewable term of between 12 and 15 years.
Jeffery suggested that the matter of their length of service should eventually be settled by the superior courts bill, which places the administration of courts under the chief justice.
In fact, an earlier version of the constitutional amendment bill controversially proposed permanently appointing judges to the Constitutional Court, but this has been removed from the latest version tabled in Parliament.
The provision was criticised for making it possible in theory to load the court with politically compliant judges.
The bill still proposes making the Constitutional Court to become the apex court in all matters, and not just constitutional cases.
Smuts has said this is problematic because the judges currently serving at the court were not appointed with this function in mind.