‘I serve only the Constitution’

2008-09-21 00:00

Chris Nicholson, dubbed the judge who brought down a president, said he serves only one master — and that is the Constitution of South Africa.

Nicholson was a guest speaker on Friday night at a function organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society to honour the province’s Judge President, Vuka Shabalala, on the 10th anniversary of Shabalala’s appointment as head of the KwaZulu-Natal bench.

Nicholson’s watershed judgment is being cited as the catalyst for calls for President Thabo Mbeki to go.

Nicholson told his colleagues in the legal fraternity that he believed the country’s Constitution had been written with the blood of the thousands of people who died for justice, equity, non-racialism and fairness.

“These are the basic principles of the Constitution and we have to keep following them.”

Nicholson said the current times are not easy for judges.

“You can give a judgment today and people applaud you. In five to 10 years’ time we may have to find against new rulers and then we have to face a different reaction. We are no respectors of persons, we are respectors of the Constitution,” he said.

“[U.S. President] George W. Bush called the American Constitution just a piece of paper. We think differently about ours,” Nicholson added, before calling on his colleagues to pledge themselves to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

“The future of this country depends on lawyers such as yourselves who protect and honour that constitution.”

He said people must always respect a judgment whichever way it goes, and if they are unhappy with that judgement there is always the recourse to appeal to the courts.

Asked after the dinner whether he expected his judgment to have such a dramatic effect on the country, Nicholson said judgments are based purely on the papers before the judge.

Nicholson refused to be drawn to comment about the case or himself, but, ever the gentleman, he was open to chatting to the journalists around him.

As he is the author of four books an obvious question was whether he will be writing a book based around his Zuma judgment.

Nicholson responded with a firm no.

He is writing a book, however, and it is on a constitution, but not South Africa’s.

Nicholson said the book is based on two things that have intrigued him for a while. These are around the legalities over America’s invasion of Iraq and Bush’s statement that the American Constitution is just a piece of paper.

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