Radebe pushes ahead with bill

2009-06-24 16:12

Cape Town - Justice Minister Jeff Radebe intends re-introducing a controversial Mbeki-era bill aimed at transforming the judiciary and notably the administration of courts before year's end.

"The Superior Courts Bill, presumably the only bill that has stretched beyond the tenure of two previous Parliaments, will be reintroduced in this house during this year," Radebe told MPs in the justice budget debate on Wednesday.

He said the government was determined to create "a judicial system consistent with the values underpinning our constitutional democracy which reflect the aspirations and wishes of the people of this country."

Motives questioned

Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts argued that since the requirements of the Constitution on race parity had already been satisfied, one must question the ministry's motives for reintroducing the bill.

"Why really does the government want to take charge of the administration of courts?" she asked.

Smuts said the bill harked back to its earlier incarnation - the Draft Equality Bill - which would have enabled then justice minister Penuell Maduna to hand-pick judges to hear cases.

She said though the clause was taken out under pressure from the opposition, the desire on the part of government to interfere with the judiciary appeared to persist.

"A departmental official at that time... quite frankly told us that problem, I quote, 'with some judgments, with some judges and with their attitude'. It sounds familiar to me.

"Government should not be intervening in the administration of the courts. The independence includes institutional independence of which administrative independence is an integral part.

"Let's leave the judges to dispense justice, they alone can do the job and they must be left alone to do it."

'Nothing sinister'

Inkatha Freedom Party chief whip Koos van der Merwe said it was rumoured that Radebe's true motive was to create a judiciary that "broadly reflects ANC loyalty", instead of broadly reflecting the race make-up of the country, as the Constitution demands.

But Radebe said there was "nothing sinister" about his motives.

He said transformation was "dear to my heart" and the administration could not allow more than a decade to lapse before Parliament processes an important piece of legislation.

Radebe raised eyebrows earlier this month, when in an unprecedented step he prevailed upon the Judicial Service Commission to postpone interviews for judicial appointments in the interests of transformation.

A few days later, President Jacob Zuma moved to quell fears that the independence of the judiciary was under threat, telling Parliament that the separation of powers would be defended.