JSC in talks on ‘white men can’t judge’

2013-04-08 16:07

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was discussing a call by one of its members to “come clean” on the appointment of white men as judges.

“We are still discussing the ... issue that was leaked to the media, but on its merits,” JSC spokesperson Dumisa Ntsebeza said in a text message.

Read: ‘White men can’t judge’

The commission gathered in Cape Town today for a five-day meeting.

The issue referred to is a discussion paper – titled Transformation and the Judicial Service Commission – prepared by practising advocate and senior counsel Izak Smuts for presentation to the JSC.

In it, he reportedly says there exists “a very real perception in certain quarters that the JSC is, in general, set against the appointment of white male candidates, except in exceptional circumstances”.

He proposed that the JSC has “an honest debate” about its approach to the appointment of white male candidates.

“If the majority view is that ... white male candidates are only to be considered for appointment in exceptional circumstances (an approach I consider to be unlawful and unconstitutional), the JSC should at the very least come clean and say so.”

Smuts contended this would prevent white male candidates being “put through the charade of an interview before being rejected”.

The JSC is meeting in Cape Town to interview 23 short-listed candidates for 11 open judicial positions. The meeting ends on Friday. The short list was decided in February this year.

There was a furore at that time over the JSC’s rejection of Cape Town advocate Jeremy Gauntlett for appointment as a Constitutional Court judge.

It was the fifth time Gauntlett was turned down for judicial appointment.

Contacted for comment today, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Steve Swart, a long-standing member of Parliament’s justice and constitutional development portfolio committee, said there was merit in what Smuts was suggesting.

“We (the ACDP) definitely support what he has called for.”

Swart also referred to the controversy over the JSC’s rejection of Gauntlett.

“It was totally unacceptable that he was overlooked,” he said.

There was definitely a problem with the way the JSC selected candidates, “particularly white candidates”.

Swart said his party was concerned about the way eminent candidates were overlooked by the JSC, and suggested there was a “very strong political agenda” at play.

Congress of the People MP and justice spokesperson Luzelle Adams said she doubted the JSC would come out and say it would not be appointing white, male judges.

“I doubt they will say that.”

Noting that the appointment process was by secret ballot, she said race should not be an issue when it came to appointing judges.

“Race should be out of the issue. We should be looking at the quality of the candidates going to the Bench,” Adams said.

The justice ministry was not immediately available for comment on the issue.

However, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, speaking during debate on his budget vote in Parliament in May last year, denied there were political agendas pursued by some JSC members.

“There are views ... that the JSC tends to overlook quality and competence, and that its decisions are influenced by political agendas.

“These sentiments are devoid of any truth and tend to undermine the integrity of the JSC’s esteemed members,” he said at the time.

The DA and Inkatha Freedom Party justice spokespeople were not immediately available for comment.

In October last year, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that the transformation of the judiciary was an ongoing “juggling act” between meeting constitutional objectives and appointing people who can carry out judicial functions effectively.

“Transformation is no longer about appointing black people and women to the judiciary. There are added factors,” Mogoeng said at the time.

A few months earlier, in August, the Black Lawyers’ Association said a short list of candidate judges drawn up by the JSC was “worrisome” as it did not reflect the “demographics” of South Africa.

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