Attacks threaten judiciary - Ngcobo

2010-11-13 19:35
Johannesburg - Recent attacks on the justice system in the media are a threat to public confidence and pose a risk to judicial independence, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo said on Saturday.

"On several occasions in recent months the judiciary has been the subject of unbridled and unwarranted attacks in the media." Ngcobo said in a speech prepared for the Law Society AGM in Rustenburg.

"The problem with such attacks, whether from political parties, academics or political commentators, is that they imperil confidence in the courts and therefore pose a risk to judicial independence," he said.

"An independent judiciary is particularly important in South Africa as we remain in the early stages of our constitutional democracy."

Ngcobo said the country was a nation in transition, from a society characterised by racial injustice, inequality and a disregard for fundamental freedoms - to one based on social justice, equality, human dignity and a respect for fundamental human rights and freedom.

Criticism welcome

He said the courts were the ultimate guardians of these values and many others in the constitution.

The role of the justice system was meaningless without the independence necessary to impartially resolve disputes, without any interference or the perception thereof from any source, whether it be powerful interest groups or other branches of government, he said.

"If the courts are to effectively perform this crucial role, it is essential not only that they are actually independent, but that they are also perceived to be independent."

Ngcobo said criticism of the justice system was welcome, as long as it focused on the reasons for court decisions or unacceptable ethical conduct by judges.

He said it was appropriate and necessary that the decision of judges be scrutinised.

"At the same time, the judicial system has a built in mechanism for the correction of errors - the opportunity to appeal."

"Constructive criticism is crucial in the development of the law... nevertheless, it should be directed at the judge's analysis rather than the judge's person," he said.

Ngcobo said that nobody, particularly public officials, should question the necessity of respecting and obeying a judgement passed, no matter how strong their disagreement.

If the country was to be successfully transformed, it would need the trust of the public, and more importantly, its support for the principle of judicial independence, he said.

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