Cabinet’s judicial plan gives us the shivers

2011-11-26 10:39

Cabinet’s announcement this week on the “transformation of the judicial system and the role of the judiciary in a developmental state” is cause for concern.

The statement was chilling in the wake of ­opposition political parties and civil society ­formations announcing that the Protection of ­Information Bill, which has just been passed, would have to have its constitutionality tested by the Constitutional Court.

We see this announcement as a subtle message that the judiciary’s judgments will come under harsh scrutiny from our government.

While no judgment is beyond scrutiny, what is troublesome about the Cabinet’s announcement is that it seeks to assess whether judges are discharging their ­duties as they should.

A disturbing call.

Judges must be accountable only to the ­Constitution, which politicians are at liberty to craft to meet the ends they see fit, including a developmental state.

It is not for judges to live up to the political projects of a party in power at any given time, no matter how noble the ­party’s policies.

The announcement is also worrisome because it is the latest in a line of questionable pronouncements on the judiciary made by either the ANC or the government.

President Jacob ­Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede ­Mantashe seem to believe that the judiciary is the enemy of our democratic dispensation.

Someone needs to remind the governing party that nobody contests the fact that it is in power by the popular will of the electorate.

The sooner this happens – and the sooner the party gets over its fixation with seeing shadows in every corner – the sooner the ANC will be able to get on with the business of governing the country according to the high expectations of those who voted for it.

This obsession with the idea that the judiciary is against majority rule betrays the belief that our governors have either not fully acquiesced to the idea of separation of powers or, worse, disregarded the constitutional imperative that the three pillars of the state keep to their mandates.

We will not have the wool pulled over our eyes by sweet platitudes that the entire enterprise is meant “to affirm the independence of the judiciary as well as that of the executive and Parliament with a view to promoting interdependence and interface that is necessary to realise transformation goals envisaged by the Constitution”.

We may very well have misunderstood the ­intentions of the governing party, but where the constitutional future of our state is concerned, we would rather be alarmist and wrong than ­complacent and rueful.

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