Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has suggested that candidates for deputy judge president of the north and south Gauteng divisions need not apply unless they have a plan to right their “embarrassing” record of reserved judgments.
“It is an ever-recurring problem, particularly, in the North Gauteng [Pretoria] High Court, with reserved judgments that last anything from two years and beyond,” Mogoeng told Judge Aubrey Ledwaba, the first of seven candidates interviewed for the post today.
He said the issue was a “critical” requirement for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), more so than a candidate’s record of reported judgments.
Ledwaba said he believed the problem could be partially addressed by naming?and?shaming judges who routinely postponed pronouncing on cases, but he cautioned that the Bench should not compromise quality for haste.
“The judge should balance the quality of the judgment with the fact that the litigants would like to see it over,” he said.
“There are matters where, I think, judges should be given ample time.”
Fellow applicant, Judge Lettie Malopa-Sethosa, said judges’ workloads often did not allow them adequate time to finalise complex judgments.
“It is not an ideal situation to have reserved judgments, but unfortunately at times it is unavoidable,” she said.
“People don’t get a chance to sit down and do their judgments. I promise you, reserving a judgment deliberately is not something you do. It does not sit nicely. You promise yourself you will come back to it,” she said.
Mogoeng said he had hoped candidates would have applied their minds to how they planned to address the high number of outstanding judgments at the high courts in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
“Its a source of some embarrassment to your division,” he said.
He recalled a case where a litigant died while judgment was still reserved – six years after his case was heard.
“We must be satisfied that you are going to lead these people. Why did you come here to suggest you can fix the car before you know if it’s the engine or the exhaust or the carburettor that is the problem?” he asked.
Candidates said the problem was exacerbated by the high number of civil cases on the roll, notably Road Accident Fund (RAF) matters, which should be settled out of court.
“I think it is a tremendous waste of resources. There must be a mechanism whereby we can address that,” said Judge Cynthia Pretorius.
Mogoeng said senior officials at the RAF had promised that the policy of giving orders to settle cases only on the date they were due to be heard would be abandoned, and he was displeased to hear it persisted.
Pretorius said stronger intervention by the judge president and deputy was needed if the issue was to be tackled.
“It is a big issue. It embarrasses me because it looks as if we don’t know how to do our work.
“I think we should be more honest with each other in meetings in dealing with this problem,” she said.