Zuma’s judicial musical chairs

2017-03-26 06:00
Out: Ishmael Semenya

Out: Ishmael Semenya

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President Jacob Zuma’s decision to replace some of the most senior commissioners on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) just weeks before the body meets to interview a fresh crop of judges has raised some eyebrows within the legal profession.

Three top senior counsel City Press interviewed said that while the three candidates Zuma is considering designating to the JSC are not unknown, they are not of the level of seniority one would usually expect of presidential designates to the body.

The counsel that City Press spoke to said the two advocates nominated were independent-minded people of integrity.

On Friday, the presidency announced that Zuma was considering designating advocates Thandi Norman, Thabani Masuku and attorney Sifiso Msomi as the persons to serve on the commission.

Msomi, reportedly an attorney from KwaZulu-Natal, is the least known of the three.

In terms of the Constitution, the president must first consult the leaders of all parties in the National Assembly before he makes this appointment, hence the emphasis on the fact that he is “considering” the appointment.

But what has caused murmurs in legal corridors is the identity of the commissioners being replaced.

The only presidential designate who has not been given marching orders is Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, the advocate who represented Baleka Mbete, speaker of the National Assembly, in the Constitutional Court hearing on the Nkandla scandal.

Nkosi-Thomas’s performance in the face of tough questions from judges in regard to whether Parliament had failed in its oversight of the executive made headlines and caused a stir on social media.

Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, one of the most well-known and highly respected advocates in South Africa, who was a commissioner during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is, however, one of those who has been given marching orders. Ntsebeza was also one of the JSC’s two spokespersons.

Ishmael Semenya SC, another of the presidential designates who will be leaving, is a senior advocate prominently involved in the leadership of the advocates’ profession.

Additionally, Zuma is replacing Andiswa Ndoni, known for being a quiet JSC commissioner who asked relevant questions without much of the political grandstanding that can sometimes characterise JSC interviews.

Speculation is rife within the legal profession that the move came after Ntsebeza and Semenya both took on briefs that could be regarded as contrary to Zuma’s interests.

Ntsebeza acted for the Economic Freedom Fighters in the short-lived attempt by Zuma to interdict the release of the Public Protector’s state capture report. Zuma later instructed his attorneys to withdraw the application.

Semenya was one of three advocates, including Jeremy Gauntlett and Steven Budlender, who provided legal opinions on the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, stating that the bill was constitutional, contrary to the president’s assertions that it wasn’t.

According to the cab-rank rule, which applies in respect of the profession in South Africa, advocates are obliged to accept work in the field in which they specialise if they are available.

The JSC will again conduct interviews for judges between April 3 and 7.

Read more on:    jsc  |  jacob zuma

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