Freedom Under Law raises concerns over composition of selection panel for new Chief Justice

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
  • Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's term will come to an end on 11 October. 
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on the public to nominate South Africa's next Chief Justice to promote transparency. 
  • Freedom Under Law has raised several concerns, such as the inclusion of political appointees in the panel. 

Freedom Under Law (FUL) says while it notes President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision to invite public participation in selecting South Africa's next Chief Justice, it has several concerns relating to the composition of the panel appointed to shortlist nominees.

Ramaphosa has, in a first, called on the public to nominate South Africa's next chief justice to promote transparency.

In a statement issued on Friday, FUL CEO Nicole Fritz said the panel consisted of several "outstanding" persons who had played distinguished roles in South Africa and abroad.

"However, the inclusion of political appointees is not to be welcomed. The inclusion of two political appointees from the same political party is especially contrary to any principle," she said.

READ | Chief Justice Mogoeng's 'long leave' owed to him, it's not unusual, says his office

"Further, the failure to include any senior or recently retired judge means direct knowledge of the current workings of the South African judiciary is excluded. Senior legal practitioners are also not represented on the panel, again excluding those with [a] significant understanding of the current problems faced by the judiciary as a whole and with direct knowledge of individual candidates.

In short, the committee is insufficiently balanced in its composition and does not draw on the best available knowledge of the current state and needs of the judiciary. It is not likely to elicit the degree of public confidence vital to the process.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has less than a month before the end of his term, which ends on 11 October.

On Thursday, the presidency announced that anyone would be able to nominate a candidate.

A nomination should be accompanied by an endorsement and support of at least one professional body of legal practitioners or NGOs working in the field of human rights or other legal areas.

All nominations would be made public on the presidency's website, and any objections should be sent in writing by 15 October.

A panel chaired by Navi Pillay, the former International Court of Justice judge and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will then shortlist between three and five candidates for the president's consideration.

The panel also includes Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola, former justice minister Jeff Radebe, former Public Protector advocate Thuli Madonsela, SA National Aids Council co-chairperson Mmapaseka Steve Letsike, and Professor Ziyad Motala of the Howard University School of Law. 

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