Who’ll be the next top judge?

2011-07-30 16:23

The race is on again for the next chief justice.

Top legal minds are making their bets as to who President Jacob ­Zuma will appoint to replace Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, after he unexpectedly withdrew his acceptance of the president’s offer to ­extend his term of office.

“It won’t be [deputy chief justice] Dikgang [Moseneke],” said Lawson Naidoo, spokesperson for the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution.

He did not want to speculate on who he thought Zuma would choose, assuming he overlooked Moseneke.

The appointment of Moseneke as chief justice was this week touted by Nokukhanya Jele, National Association of Democratic Lawyers spokesperson; and DA justice spokesperson Dene Smuts.

“We do believe that institutional memory and continuity is important,” said Jele.

Jele suggested that the appointment of Moseneke should be considered because he worked closely with Ngcobo in implementing his transformation initiatives and could take the process forward.

“The problem with Moseneke,” said constitutional expert Professor Marinus Wiechers, is that “he is not government-orientated”.

Moseneke made it clear that he would protect the Constitution rather than the government, ­added Wiechers, and he also made some negative remarks about the ANC some years ago.

Other possibilities being named in the legal fraternity are Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Lex Mpati and constitutional court judge Sisi Khampepe.

“Khampepe would be a good choice, because she would be the country’s first female Constitutional Court president,” said Wiechers.

On Friday, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos wrote in his blog, Constitutionally Speaking, that whoever Zuma appoints would say much about his political views and whether he is progressive or deeply conservative.

“The obvious choice for chief justice is Moseneke. Appointing him would signal to Cosatu and to more progressive elements within the ANC that the president supports the transformative vision that our Constitutional Court has said is embodied in the Constitution,” Vos wrote.

But if Zuma rather wishes to ­appease the ­conservatives who wish to limit the influence of the Constitutional Court, he might go for a new member of the court such as Justice Mogoeng, who has emerged as a conservative justice.

Vos said that if Zuma was serious about the women’s lobby he may appoint somebody like Justice Bess Nkabinde, who has shown deep commitment to social justice.

Zuma could also pick the next chief justice from ­leaders of any ­other court, such as Mpati, a respected jurist and firm believer in the independence of the judiciary.

Another candidate could be the highly regarded Labour Court judge president, Dunstan Mlambo.

Others in the legal fraternity put their money on an appointment from the ranks of black Constitutional Court judges, Thembile Skweyiya or Mogoeng, or from the ranks of the country’s judge-presidents, said Pretoria advocate Getruida Jordaan.

“We all know it won’t be ­Moseneke because he has angered the president.”

On Friday the Constitutional Court declared section 8(a) of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act 47 of 2001 “inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid”.

This was the legislation used by Zuma to extend Ngcobo’s term of office.

Organisations including the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the Justice Alliance of SA and Freedom Under Law took the matter to the Constitutional Court.

Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj told City Press that the president would abide by the Constitutional Court’s decision. Maharaj said Zuma would make his decision before August 15, the expiry date of the chief justice’s term of office.

» Last week, City Press ran a story on the race for the next chief

justice and reported that DA justice spokesperson Dene Smuts had touted the

­appointment of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang ­Moseneke as the successor to Chief

Justice Sandile Ngcobo.

City Press had not spoken to Smuts on

the matter.

The journalist has been suspended with immediate effect, pending an

internal investigation.

City Press apologises for the mistake and any ­embarrassment it may

have caused.

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