Zondo in front for ConCourt job

2012-03-10 15:17

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is in a fix over the appointment of a new Constitutional Court ­Justice.

This week it announced that it was unable to produce a short list of nominees for President Jacob Zuma to pick from because it did not have enough nominees.

The JSC needs to replace former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and the Constitution stipulates that four candidates be placed on a short list for the position.

Five independent legal sources told City Press that the lack of ­interest in the position is being fuelled by a perception that the JSC has already made its mind up about who will get the nod.

Judge Ray Zondo, the judge president of the Labour Court and currently an acting justice of the Constitutional Court, is understood to be favoured for the job by the JSC as well as Chief ­Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

The other frontrunner is Judge Robert Nugent of the Supreme Court of Appeal, also a ­highly ­respected jurist. But the JSC now finds itself ­facing a possible crisis of ­credibility.

It cannot place either of the two judges on a short list before two more appropriately qualified nominees apply.

The JSC received only four nominations – only two of whom were considered ­appropriately qualified. Being placed on the short list means being subjected to a “very public interview” by the JSC.

Dene Smuts, DA spokesperson for justice, said it was “not easy for senior judges to go through those interviews”.“Our judges are people with great gravitas and reserve?.?.?.?

One can understand that people are discouraged because they think the outcome is a foregone conclusion.”A senior member of the Johannesburg Bar said the broader ­concern existed against a backdrop of “inexplicable” decisions, by which the JSC had passed over ­outstanding candidates.

Highly regarded senior counsel who had been passed over for positions on the Bench in the past ­included advocates Jeremy Gauntlett, Geoff Budlender, Owen Rogers and Willem van der Linde.

“One gets the impression that the majority of the JSC make up their minds and later choose that candidate,” said the senior bar member. JSC spokesperson Dumisa ­Ntsebeza disagreed, saying that view was “not supported by the ­evidence”, as judges were publicly ­interviewed.

“No one person can make a ­decision for the JSC.“It comprises about 20 people and a decision is taken by a ­majority, which is how all democracies must function,” he said.But Lawson Naidoo, executive director of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, said he was “surprised there aren’t more candidates putting themselves forward for what should be the pinnacle of a legal ­career”.

Naidoo said it would be a “telling criticism of the JSC and its processes” if a candidate could not be found by the next round of ­interviews.

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said that the “whole process of appointing a judge starts lacking in credibility” if nominees did not come forward.

“The JSC fails to interrogate the judicial philosophy of candidates properly?.?.?.?which makes it very difficult to understand how the JSC comes to its decisions.”

Smuts said she had suggested constitutional amendments to ­ensure the legal profession had a greater say on the JSC.“The majority of the political block tends to vote together, so candidates are discouraged,” she said.

The JSC is chaired by the Chief Justice and includes the president of the High Court, a judge president, the minister of justice, 10 MPs – three of whom are from opposition parties – and four others appointed by the president.

There are two advocates, two ­attorneys and a teacher of law, who represent their professions.

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