Presidency defends Mogoeng nomination
Johannesburg - The debate on the country's new chief justice must not impugn the dignity of the judiciary or demean the integrity of the nominee, the presidency said on Wednesday.
"The facts regarding suitability and experience should not be disregarded in the debate," said President Jacob Zuma's spokesperson, Mac Maharaj.
"The presidency reiterates its respect and high regard for the judiciary and for the Constitutional Court as an arbiter in disputes in our country."
Maharaj said Zuma welcomed the debate but there were "disappointing inaccuracies" and "distortions" in the response to Zuma's nomination of Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice.
"These need to be addressed without delay to enable the debate to continue based on factual information.
"The debate must be balanced and be within the rules of common decency.
"It must not be designed to demean the person of, and question the integrity of the president's nominee, Justice Mogoeng."
Maharaj said that according to the Constitution, "any appropriately qualified woman or man who is a fit and proper person, and is a South African citizen, may be appointed as a judicial officer.
"In addition, at all times, at least four members of the Constitutional Court must be persons who were judges at the time they were appointed to the Constitutional Court.
"The four must have been judges and not judges of the Constitutional Court per se.
"Therefore, Constitutional Court experience is not a criterion for appointment. By implication it is not necessary that persons appointed as Constitutional Court judges should have been judges before appointment."
He said they could have been legal academics, advocates, attorneys or directors of nongovernmental organisations.
"This has happened before, looking at the experience of the country's post-apartheid chief justices, some of whom had no experience as judges, but who acquitted themselves in a distinguished manner."
Maharaj then listed the experience of previous chief justices, Arthur Chaskalson, Pius Langa and Sandile Ngcobo.
"... at the time of their appointment, both former Chief Justices Chaskalson and Langa were not judges.
"Former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo was first appointed as a judge in 1996. He served as Western Cape High Court Judge, Labour Appeal Court judge, Acting Judge President , and a judge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Committee. He was later appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1999."
He said Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke became a high court judge in November 2001 and was appointed to the Constitutional Court a year later.
"Justice Mogoeng has been a judge since 1997 and is far senior in terms of judicial experience than most judges who are in the Constitutional Court currently, with the exception of Justice Johan Froneman who was appointed as a judge in 1994, and Justice Edwin Cameron who was appointed as a judge in 1995."
Opposition parties appeared unhappy with Zuma's nomination of Mogoeng as chief justice, but it received the ANC's support.
The Congress of the People on Wednesday said Mogoeng lacked the necessary experience.
Replying to Zuma's letter to party leaders asking for comment on his choice, Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said Cope had carefully considered all the information available.
"And we are of the opinion that, notwithstanding his academic qualifications, Mr Justice Mogoeng does not possess the requisite amount of experience on the bench.
"It is our humble submission that there are a number of highly capable legal minds with extensive experience on the current bench that deserve prior consideration," he said.
"This will go a long way towards sustaining the distinguished standing our judicial bench enjoys at home, in the region, and beyond.
"Without any prejudice to Mr Justice Mogoeng, we humbly urge that you reconsider and take another look at all the members of the present bench," Lekota said.
Zuma nominated Mogoeng on Tuesday to replace former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, whose term of office expired on Sunday.