DA slams ‘strangest’ Constitutional Court probe

2011-11-24 15:31

A decision by Cabinet to “assess” all Constitutional Court judgments is one of the government’s “strangest proposals to date”.

This was the reaction of DA MP and spokesperson on justice Dene Smuts after government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi announced this afternoon that the Cabinet has agreed to appoint an independent research institution to establish how the court’s decisions had influenced “socio-economic transformation and the reform of the law”.

Manyi was addressing reporters in Pretoria after Cabinet held its last meeting of the year.

Manyi declined to respond to questions from reporters who wanted clarity on what the assessment would achieve.

The department of justice and constitutional development would hold a separate media briefing next week, said Manyi.

The evaluation of the judiciary’s decisions was aimed at defining the judiciary’s role “in a developmental state”.

Manyi said the assessment would inform Cabinet about what needed to be done to transform the judiciary and improve access to justice for ordinary citizens.

Cabinet had also agreed to establish a framework that would regularly monitor the implementation of court decisions by all government departments.

“The mandates and compositions of the South African Law Reform Commission and the Rules Board of Law (would be) reviewed with a view to enhance the research capacity of the State to be able to lead transformation in the fields that have greater impact on the lives of the people, such as socio-economic transformation, land reform and mining aviation and many more,” said Manyi.

Cabinet would also establish a system where all three spheres of government would be able to regularly engage with the judiciary to “enhance synergy and constructive engagement among them in pursuit of common transformative goals that are geared to benefit the society at large”, said Manyi.

Manyi said Cabinet wanted to ensure that the judiciary “conforms to the transformation mandate as envisaged in the Constitution….in terms of non-racialism, gender, disability and other transformational variables”.

He added that the evaluation would “affirm the independence of the judiciary as well as that of the executive and Parliament with a view to promoting interdependence and interface”.

But Smuts slammed the decision to “assess” Constitutional Court judgements.

“It will inevitably be seen as a sinister attempt to bend the Bench to the executive and the ruling party’s will, especially given the recent spate of hostile comment from such persons as ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Deputy Correctional Services Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and the fact that it is common knowledge that certain judgements are unpopular with the ANC.

“The courts are not an instrument of government policy whose output can be measured on performance indicators and other governance criteria. They are there to give authoritative interpretation of the Constitution and the law,” Smuts said.

She questioned whether the “assessment” was Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s idea, given his “consistent” respect of the doctrine of separation of powers.

“Cabinet says it wants to affirm the independence of the judiciary by promoting interdependence between the three branches of state - that is a contradiction in terms.

A ‘regular interface’ between the three spheres is to be established through ‘appropriate mechanisms’. No formal mechanisms are necessary to pursue the Constitutional dialogue which former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo postulated and practised to deal with the tensions that inevitably arise between especially the executive and the judiciary,” Smuts said.

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