Smuts quits JSC, cites ‘wasted talent’

2013-04-13 00:00

THE man who argued that the Judicial Service Commission should “come clean” about whether white men could still be appointed judges has resigned.

Advocate Izak Smuts SC announced that he had quit the commission because of its “disturbing” track record which had left a “trail of wasted talent in its wake”.

Smuts, who was commissioned by the JSC to draft a document about his views, was asked to apologise this week for “leaking” it ahead of the commission’s meeting in Cape Town.

The document was discussed on Monday, with several commissioners disagreeing that white men were being sidelined.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng later told reporters that while merit did count, “transformation is just as important”.

It is understood that while fellow commissioners had no gripe with Smuts’s views in the document, there was unhappiness that he had circulated it to others ahead of the JSC’s meeting on Monday.

He was asked to apologise for his alleged breach of confidentiality, but he believes he was entitled to because he views it as a “public document”.

JSC spokesperson Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC said Smuts’s resignation was “regrettable”, but had been accepted.

In a statement yesterday, Smuts said: “It has become increasingly apparent to me, and has been made devastatingly clear during the proceedings of the commission this past week, that my understanding of the constitutional role and duty of the commission, and even of basic rights such as those of human dignity and freedom of speech, is so far removed from the understanding of the majority of the commission that it is not possible for me to play an effective role.”

He had “on numerous occasions been in despair at the outcome of [the JSC’s] deliberations”.

He singled out Azhar Cachalia, Geoff Budlender, Torquil Paterson, Jeremy Gauntlett and, most recently, Clive Plasket, as examples of “intellectual forensic excellence”, who had been rejected for appointment or pomotion.

Plasket was grilled during his interview for a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Appeal, with Judge Nigel Willis and Halima Saldulker being recommened for appointment instead. The pair were reportedly given an easier ride. Smuts said the JSC’s “deeply concerning” approach had resulted in a “massive loss” to South African courts.

“In a country still seeking to establish a new value-based foundation for its continued existence, this waste of talent, experience and values is not rationally explicable,” he said.

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