Judge slams Grootboom case

2009-09-22 17:17

Johannesburg - Judge Nigel Willis called the Constitutional Court’s decision on the Irene Grootboom case "a disaster" because it was not implementable, when he was interviewed for one of four positions on that Bench on Tuesday.

"In the end, the Grootboom case was a disaster," said Willis, when asked to comment on the court’s work.

He said the court had acted with the best intentions, but had made "one or two errors of judgment".

Judges should understand that socio-economic issues are more complicated than issuing orders, expecting people to comply with them, and getting angry when they are not complied with.

This was one of the reasons he wanted to work at the Constitutional Court, said Willis, whose qualifications include a degree in banking science, one in law, and recent studies in theology.

"I think it has missed the point sometimes," he said.


He was not saying the court had done too much or too little, but "I am talking about orders that are not practically implementable".

There were orders that he would not have put his name to, he said.

He cited the 2000 Grootboom case, which many described as a landmark case in terms of the government providing adequate housing.

Grootboom was about to be evicted from a sports ground in Wallacedene, Cape Town, with several hundred other people.

Their case went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that they could not be evicted until the government had provided a decent housing alternative for them.

"Mrs Grootboom died without a house despite the fact that many people said what a great decision it was," Willis said. Grootboom died earlier this year. She was living in a shack at the time.

He said there was "not even one house" built.

"And I don’t want to hurt your feelings Chief Justice," he told Chief Justice Pius Langa, who heads the Constitutional Court.

'What would you have done?'

After a few unrelated questions from the commissioners, Langa returned to the subject, asking: "What would you have done with Grootboom?"

Willis replied that he was not at the court at the time, so he did not see the papers. However, he added: "I would have asked what the government could do."

He was not made to answer questions on his dissenting judgment on whether fellow applicant Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s complaint and counter-complaint at the JSC should go ahead or not.

Willis ruled that it should, but two other judges set the earlier proceedings aside.

He has also ruled that the JSC proceedings relating to Hlophe should be open to the media.