Bizos slams review of courts

2012-03-29 20:24

Cape Town - Veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos has expressed incredulity at the government's plans to review the rulings of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal.

"I am concerned that there are attempts to assess the decisions of the courts," Bizos said on Thursday, in an aside from his submission on the protection of state information bill during public hearings in Parliament.

"Who is going to assess them? I don't know the qualifications of the people that are expected to do that. How are they going to assess the judgments of the courts?"

Bizos recalled how apartheid era prime minister John Vorster conceded that his government had tried to appoint subservient judges, but complained that these too proved troublesomely independent at times.

Dividing the country

"We don't want that sort of judiciary. We have a strong judiciary. Let us have confidence in that and let us solve this problem," he said referring to the bill.

"It is really dividing the country."

The respected senior counsel, who famously defended Nelson Mandela on treason charges half a century ago, strayed from his presentation on the legislation to admonish the government for increasingly questioning the decisions of the courts.

"And I would appeal to parliamentarians and others that in relation to matters of justice, the courts are our final arbiters. Please believe it, accept it and don't make irresponsible statements in relation to the courts not knowing what they are doing.

"We have an international reputation, we have a national reputation, we know that people who lose cases don't like it, but that does not mean that they don't have to follow Nelson Mandela's statement when the government lost the first case in the Constitutional Court."


He was referring to the then president's public acceptance of a 1995 court ruling overturning a law that gave him the power to amend legislation by proclamation.

"In order to avoid public disquiet... he rushed to the SABC and said we are very disappointed that we have lost this case, nevertheless we are a democratic government and we will obey the order and I expect everybody else to do so."

In November, Cabinet announced plans for a review of the Constitutional Court.

This week, it revealed that the terms of reference include the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, judicial independence and the separation of powers, "as embodied in the Constitution and defined by our courts".

It also announced that the review would include the Supreme Court of Appeal, which found against President Jacob Zuma last week, for the second time in three months.

Final authority

Bizos, appearing for the Legal Resources Centre, said the so-called secrecy bill also risked usurping the powers of the courts by making a proposed review panel the final authority on the correctness of a decision to classify information.

"Appointing a committee as the final, apparently, arbiter of whether classification was good or bad may be an exclusion of the courts' jurisdiction."

Bizos said it was one of seven fundamental flaws in the bill that would almost certainly see it struck down by the Constitutional Court if passed in its current form.

He pleaded for the inclusion of a public interest defence to balance provisions introducing prison sentences of up to 25 years for revealing state secrets.

"It will take a pretty brave man or woman to make something public in the public interest when there is uncertainty whether he or she is going to serve a long term in prison.


"To expose corruption and have to serve this sort of term in prison is undemocratic, it is unreasonable and the courts will not give effect to it."

He appealed to ANC MPs to use the same majority that allowed the ruling party to drive the bill through the National Assembly last year, to refer it to the Constitutional Court for review.

"You have the necessary majority... Let us refer it to the Constitutional Court, the decision will be binding on everybody," he said.

Thursday was the penultimate day of public hearings on the bill held by the ad hoc committee processing it in the National Council of Provinces.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told MPs the trade union federation would rush to the Constitutional Court to challenge the bill if passed in its present form.

Cosatu, Bizos and Verne Harris from the Nelson Mandela Foundation all objected to clause 1 (4) of the bill that states that it would trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act where the two pieces of legislation clashed.

Harris argued that this attempt to have the so-called "secrecy bill" to interfere with the provisions of the prior, constitutionally-mandated act, would be successfully challenged in the Constitutional Court.

  • Jessica - 2012-03-29 20:42

    First step of the dismantling of democracy in South Africa. The Zapiro cartoon of Lady Justice being raped is so true for this government

      Mark - 2012-03-29 20:47

      Jessica. I think this Gvt may be close to impotence at this stage.

  • Mark - 2012-03-29 20:44

    Does the esteemed and internationally respected Mr. Bizos support this ANC administration with his vote? Judging by my experience concerning liberal Lefties (in the best sense of the word), he might easily.

      Jessica - 2012-03-29 20:56

      Most of the lefties are sorry they help to bring down apartheid. Thjey transformed a working country into a corrupt state with no law

      Jessica - 2012-03-29 20:57

      I know I am

      Thabang - 2012-03-29 21:13

      @Jessica I think you might be the only who or maybe there are few of you who are sorry the apartheid is no more. Do you really think apartheid was a good thing, maybe for you and I respect your view but one think for sure it was not a good thing for the majority of this country, unless you convince me otherwise. And I know there might be somewhere where things fell apart due to some skills living the country but apartheid is the worse thing that could happen to any country

      Jessica - 2012-03-29 21:22

      Tell me Thabang why is one of the leading black intellectuals saying education for one was better under the apartheid regime then the current democratically elected government. Ive heard from many older black people who said that although things was tough under the previous regime they had law and order, education, health and infrastructure. You have a few elite ANC cadres who are stripping the resources for their own gain. The NP government at least made sure that there was education, health and infrastructure for every one

      Tsietsi - 2012-03-29 21:54

      No matter what you say Jessica, apartheid can never be justified. Its just that the anc has messed up, big time.

      Mark - 2012-03-29 21:55

      Jessica. You surely don't want to swap to with the old NATS do you? I know they stand out quite well in certain respects, but their idealogy led to untold suffering and injustice to Blacks. It was was awful, as I am sure you will agree.

      Thabang - 2012-03-29 22:11

      @Jessica are you talking about education state or apartheid? But I believe you when you say it was good for you and the lefties as you say

      Marion - 2012-03-30 09:35

      @Jessica, I don't think that anyone is sorry that they helped to topple the Apartheid government. I think they are sorry that the ANC threw the baby out with the bathwater. I for one would never wish to live under Apartheid-style government again. I would lose far more than I would gain.

  • Tsietsi - 2012-03-29 20:45

    Legalising abortion, decriminalising prostitution, the secrecy bill, what next? These people are "possessed".

  • eben.ferreira1 - 2012-03-29 21:00

    And Zuma and Co are still at a loss about why the country cannot create jobs.........or maybe not. Standing on a platform and making empty speaches about job creation and throwing a few billion Rands of taxpayers money at it helps nobody, Not if your actions and motives you send into the world are such that it hampers direct real investment. Silly Buggers they are

  • Clive - 2012-03-29 21:04

    go george

  • Clive - 2012-03-29 21:07

    The ANC that George Bizos defended so many years ago, is not the same ANC of to-day. Then they has disipline,integrity and leadership. Judge for yourself how they measure up to-day

      Marion - 2012-03-30 09:40

      So many great leaders sacrificed their lives in one way or another for ideals that have evaporated like morning mist. If the old guard do not succeed in reigning the ANC in now the country will spiral even deeper into anarchy. May their voices ring out in unity.

  • Ben - 2012-03-29 21:37

    The question is, what is the motivation for secrecy and to look at the functioning of the constitutional court. Is government not satisfied with one of the best constitutions in the world and if not, why not.

  • Mtizozo - 2012-03-29 21:37

    Well done to the ANC and the goverment, this will be the second step in fixing the mess done by the pass laws.

      Wesley Williams - 2012-03-30 06:02

      I wonder when the ANC is killing people in the streets, if you are going to remember this stupid statement. Perhaps you think the ANC should behave like African governments and murder the citizens. If so, then continue what you believe and prove that the racist are right about African governments.

      Rob - 2012-03-30 11:48

      Mtizozo: We can disagree about what is or is not done correctly....BUT NOT HAVING SUFFICIENT INFORMATION TO FORM AN OPINION IS BAD FOR EVERYONE! No good can come out of supression of information except possibly items of national security....national being the country not individuals. Protecting individuals from exposure is like covering sewerage with sand!

  • Mtizozo - 2012-03-29 21:42

    the next step fpr anc and the gove to fix should be the education, not the pass rate but ensure that education is invested in all human rases,,

      Mark - 2012-03-29 21:57

      Absolutely. It is clearly essential.

  • Johnathon - 2012-03-29 21:59

    Muzzle the newspapers, muzzle the courts, so that the corruption can move on to ever increasing heights. Just why do the people of this country allow the Government to do just what it likes to enhance its self enrichment drive. Other countries do not tolerate the slightest corruption, incompetence, illegal acts or immoral behaviour from their leaders. One foot wrong, and they are gone. Can you ever imagine the president of any European country, USA, Australia or Canada, ever allowing their president to think for one moment that he can mess with the constitution or try to limit the freedom of the press and judiciary. He would be out of office instantly, as fast as an eye can blink. Clinton was on the verge of impeachment because of a blow job. An American politician was asked to immediately resign, as there was an allegation of cronyism levelled against him. Any single alleged scandal or sign of incompetence against a politician, and he is immediately forced out of office. That is how a democracy should work, not like the banana democracy this country is rapidly sinking into. Typical of every other African State though, that their leaders are never ever held accountable, and are given free reign to govern just as they want to.

      Marion - 2012-03-30 09:49

      I think it is possibly because Apartheid focused on keeping the masses uneducated and now the ANC has just followed in their footsteps? Education is what changes the world for the better.

  • Sheik - 2012-03-29 22:07

    At Bizos, just how long did you think this honeymoon would last. I believe it is the Zuma fuction within the ANC that want to hold on to power at all cost, and if he is not removed soon, Mandela's 27 years in jail and those gave their all like Bizos who worked for change would have been for nothing. The ANC is now just another ZanuPF type party that has past the point of no return of the dreams of Tambo, Mandela and friends. Maybe Harold Macmillian was right when he said that a wall should have been built around Africa and that each 100 years or so, a brick should be removed to see if there was any progress.

      Mark - 2012-03-29 22:43

      The Zuma "Fuction" you say... Bloody good description, Sheik!

      Mark - 2012-03-30 07:23

      The ANC may think it has the upper hand and can challenge or change whatever it wants to stay in power or steal from the people. However, this is fantasy as many South Africans, of all races will rise up and destroy these delusions. The world and its' people are striving for freedom and good government, not "rulers" and will make the Arab spring look mild by comparison. I and many of my compatriots will not tolerate the abuses of power and corruption as they stand. We will go underground if need be and create a truly ungovernable state. We will deseminate information, disrupt illegal and unconstitutional activities and destroy their ability to dictate to us. They will learn the true lesson of democracy and freedom or be cast out. Totalitarian regimes don't get much suport when they are in exile.....and they will be in exile. Long live the Republic!!!!

      Marion - 2012-03-30 09:50

      Do you believe that Harold Macmillan was right?

  • Boitumelo - 2012-03-29 22:42

    I have just logged on to google and i am horrified by the comments made by Jessica.The matter at hand is the Protection of state information bill.Yes it is true that this bill is in contravention of the constitution and its pronciple regarding the seperation of powers and it is a motion i personally am against given our countries status quo ie.corruption.The question i would like ask is why are we dwelling on the past and why does it seem hard to understand that this democracy we speak of is young and is still in its transitional phase...?further more in response to Jessica i would like to suggest that she relocate to Holland...i am sure she will fit right in,perhaps even connect with her fore fathers.Regards

      olerilwe.mosiane - 2012-03-30 06:32

      good 1 tumi

  • manyanyaphiri - 2012-03-30 00:56

    I like these reports around the POIB; but I bemoan the fact that incidences of this reportage don't go as far as pointing out the Zuma-government-need for such a law. "There is nothing for nothing!"

  • Leon - 2012-03-30 08:13

    I personally do not like advocate George Bizos but I agree with him one hundred percent on this matter!

  • Mark - 2012-03-30 08:20

    This is a very simple matter and we shouldn't be arguing the merits of Apartheid, education or anything else. This Jacob Zuma attempting to overrule the highest courts in the land to prevent them putting him in the dock, nothing else. He is using all the mechanisms at his disposal in an attempt to pretty much put himself above the law, almost like Mugabe has done, and this already shows contempt for not only us but for the office he holds. His continuous attempts to also appoint people to posts that they are unqualified for, or even disqualified from holding, coupled with the fact that they are cronies of his gives me further reasons to suspect that another agenda is at work here. I see a degree of desperation here, not only in Zuma, but also within the inner circle of the ANC as they begin to discover the enormous unhappiness amongst people on the ground.

  • Sidwell - 2012-03-30 08:21

    im starting 2 seriously like cdr. Zwelinzima Vavi,dis guy trully speaks 4 da people...and Bizos is a legend,when he speaks,people should listen...

  • Marion - 2012-03-30 09:32

    Respect to George Bizos and everyone else who is standing up to the government on this issue and the Protection of Information Bill. You are the voices of the silent majority.

  • Noory - 2012-03-30 15:44

    jessica you are right the anc dident come to goven thy came to inrich them selfs

  • Ricky Singh - 2013-04-10 15:27

    There is always a battle between justice and the people as represented by the courts and the will of the government.Thank God we have a "constitution written in stone" of which we should be serenely proud and utterly grateful, for it, wrote the ode to Apartheid and so reflects that rock on which this democracy is built.

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