Judges ‘must disclose financial interests’

2012-01-30 14:09

Judges should not be exempt from disclosing their financial interests, the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) has said.

“Conflict of interest can undermine the integrity of any public or private institution, and public confidence in it,” Casac executive director Lawson Naidoo said in a statement.

Many corruption cases stemmed from secret private interests that served to obscure or eclipse the public duty that the interest-holder had.

“Accordingly, judges should not be exempt from the principle of disclosure of financial interests that applies to other holders of public office, such as MPs or members of the executive,” he said.

There were well established legislative-based schemes for each of the other branches of government. There was a shortcoming in the case of the judicial branch of government that had to be corrected.

“The well-known case of Justice [John] Hlophe illustrates the dangers of a lack of transparency,” Naidoo said.

“In that case, the absence of a duty to make a public disclosure of a relevant outside financial interest has done great harm to both the reputation of the judge concerned and to the bench generally.”

Casac executive committee member and associate professor in public law at the University of Cape Town, Richard Calland, said it was not in the interests of justice for members of the judicial branch to hold financial interests that might give rise to conflicts of interest.

Where financial interests were held permissibly, they should at the very least be disclosed.

“By all means let there be a debate about the detail of the rules and the nature of the disclosure, including whether the interests of family members should be publicly disclosed or disclosed confidentially to a suitable authority. But there is no good reason why judges should be treated as a special case.”

A disclosure regime, such as was being proposed by the government, would not affect the independence of the judiciary, Calland said.

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