Populist judges are guilty of 'corrupting justice' – Mogoeng

2018-11-23 15:02
Mogoeng Mogoeng (Jabu Kumalo, Netwerk24)

Mogoeng Mogoeng (Jabu Kumalo, Netwerk24)

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Populist judges who try to be "celebrities" are guilty of "corrupting justice", Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said on Friday.

Addressing the release of the first Judiciary Annual Report for 2017/2018 at the Constitutional Court, Mogoeng said the courts were nothing without the confidence of the public. He said the independence of the judiciary was "indispensable", but that with independence comes accountability.

The report is the first time that the judiciary, as an arm of the state, has, of its own accord, decided to release a report into its own performance.

The report includes a detailed assessment of the case load management of the courts – something Mogoeng honed in on as an important accountability measure for judicial officers. Mogoeng said the release of the report marked a "turning point" for the history of the judiciary.

"Never before has the judiciary assumed responsibility to account for the execution of its constitutional mandate, without a middle man," he said.

"With independence comes accountability. We are not self-employed. We are employed by the people. And as their messengers, we owe them accountability," Mogoeng added.

Social media warning  

He said public confidence in the judiciary was of "vital importance".

"Lack of confidence in the judiciary has the potential to erode the moral authority of the judiciary. We do not control the army, the police or the public purse. Our orders as the court are obeyed because of the moral authority we enjoy. If we lose public confidence, we are finished," he said.

In an impassioned speech, Mogoeng stressed that judicial officers must not be populist in their approach, as this would undermine efforts to extend justice to the poor and marginalised.

"Judicial independence is indispensable. Judicial officers must never seek to be celebrities. They must never be populist in their approach to the issues. If they are tempted to be (populist), that will be injustice masquerading as justice."

He warned against judges basing their views on what analysts say and the popular views on social media.

"That would be corrupting justice. What will happen is, those who come from the village like me, who don't tweet, aren't on Facebook, who don't have connections to those who command the means of communication will always lose cases before the courts," said Mogoeng.

"We do not betray our mandate for the sake of some pseudo-political mandate."

Police must 'investigate first, then arrest'

Mogoeng said the introduction of mechanisms to hold judicial officers accountable were important. This includes norms and standards introduced to ensure that cases are finalised speedily, and that reserved judgments are handed down within three months.

He said that an "acute" lack of resources, as well as over 600 staff vacancies at the National Prosecuting Authority, contributed to a backlog of cases in the court system.

He added that detective services needed to be beefed up and the South African Police Service should "consider arrest and detention only when essential, or when it is unavoidable to do so".

Mogoeng said one of the solutions to overcrowding in prisons was for the police to investigate, and "then, and only then, do you arrest", to ensure that the matter is trial ready before it goes to court.

He said this would free up the time of magistrates, in particular, and ensure that they are free to attend to cases that are ready for trial. Mogoeng said the lack of digitisation in the courts also slowed down the speed with which cases are handled.

He said plans to pilot an electronic filing system in the superior courts would be rolled out in the next six months. The chief justice said judges should move away from the tendency to write long, "scholarly" judgments unless it was necessary to do so, and said they should try to write shorter judgments that can be handed down on the same day, to speed up the court system.

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Read more on:    mogoeng mogoeng  |  judiciary  |  courts
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