Dismay at lack of KZN judge

2012-04-25 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Bar Council expressed disappointment last night that the province would be without a deputy judge president — at least for now.

The Judicial Service Commission confirmed it had decided not to recommend any of the two candidates shortlisted and interviewed in Cape Town for the job last week.

Instead, it would re-advertise and consider the vacancy in due course, the JSC said in a statement.

JSC spokesperson Carel Fourie told a press conference yesterday that neither KZN High Court judges Fikile Mokgohloa nor Isaac Madondo were able to receive an outright majority from commissioners.

The Witness reported on Friday that the JSC had decided to go back to the drawing board following their interviews.

Judge Mokgohloa, although less experienced than her colleague, received public support from the majority of the KZN bench.

She was nominated by two senior judges and received the support of 12 others, while Judge Madondo received the support of only three judges.

During her interview, members of the JSC last week expressed concern that judges were publicly backing colleagues over others in this way, a practice that seems unique to KZN and is not followed in other divisions.

Advocate Izak Smuts of the Eastern Cape led the charge, saying it fuelled perceptions of a divided bench, and that it created the impression that there was a “judicial auction” where the bidding went to the highest number of judges.

KZN Bar Council chairperson advocate Marumo Moerane SC last night expressed the bar’s disappointment that the JSC could not find its way to appoint either of the two judges, both of whom were “appointable”.

He added that Mokgohloa’s appointment would have been ideal since it would have given a woman the opportunity to take up a leadership position.

Moerane, who previously served on the JSC, said in principle there was nothing wrong with judges expressing support for their colleagues, because at least it gave the JSC an indication of such support.

He served on the JSC when the KZN Bench was racially polarised in 2000, when white judges publicly backed Willie Basson over Vuka Tshabalala for the post of judge president.

“One of the unfortunate things at the time was that there were adverse comments by some of the judges against a fellow judge,” said Moerane.

“That was the main point of dissension and that is what was found undesirable.”

There were no adverse comments in the nominations for Mokgohloa and Madondo’s, said Moerane.

Mokgohloa and Madondo could not be reached for comment last night, while Judge President Chiman Patel declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the JSC expressed concern yesterday about the number of “competent and appropriately qualified candidates who are not making themselves available to be considered for appointment to the bench”.

It said only five candidates were available to be shortlisted for six vacancies in the North and South Guateng High Court.

Of the five candidates only three were recommended for appointment — former public protector Selby Baqwa SC, Advocate Bashier Vally SC and attorney Elizabeth Kubushi.

As expected, Gauteng deputy judge president Phineas Mojapelo, who was grilled last week for two-and-a-half hours by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe in particular about a newspaper article he wrote in 2011, was not recommended.

Instead, the JSC opted for Labour Court president Dunstan Mlambo to succeed Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, who retires on November 1.

In terms of the Constitution, the president appoints judges to the high courts on the recommendation of the JSC.

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