FRIDAY BRIEFING | Will the new Chief Justice be the most important appointment since 1994?

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De novo: Will the selection of the new Chief Justice be the most important appointment since 1994?

When former president Jacob Zuma appointed Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice in September 2011 - after Sandile Ngcobo's brief term of office - there were fears that the conservative jurist from North West would be nothing but a Zuma lackey. 

And while Mogoeng did show some flickerings of independence and fealty to the law, his term as the keeper of judicial independence and leader of the judiciary will not be remembered as one which leaves the bench in a better state than before. Allegations of improper influence on judges, ANC influence in appointments and an anti-intellectual and anti-legal bent exhibited by member of the Judicial Service Commission recently has cast a pall on judges and the judiciary.

Mogoeng will be retiring within weeks. And President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision on who will replace him will surely be one of the weightiest decisions he will have to make during his presidency. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and in terms of the Constitution, third in line to be head of state. The appointee is the most senior jurist in the country, responsible for the functioning of the Constitutional Court and acts as the guarantor of the independence of all the lower courts. 

Confidence (and faith) in law and order and in the state's ability to enforce and ensure it has never been lower. State capture and failing governance means South Africans' trust in institutions is wearing thin. The judiciary has held up better than most (think SARS or the NPA), but its reputation (think Judge President John Hlophe) has taken a beating. A new Chief Justice will have to ensure independence, professionalism and efficiency. At least two of those markers have taken a pounding under Mogoeng.

In this week's Friday Briefing, we have top analysts looking at the importance of the country's top legal job. Karyn Maughan (News24's specialist legal writer), Nicole Fritz (Freedom Under Law) and Lawson Naidoo (Casac) bring insight and perspective on what we need in a new Chief Justice.


Pieter du Toit

Assistant Editor

Ramaphosa mulls Mandela-era process to find SA's new Chief Justice

Karyn Maughan writes that impeccably placed sources say Ramaphosa wants the JSC to interview at least two nominees for the post based on the recommendations of an independent panel, expected to be comprised of retired justices.

A fractured ANC requires a new Chief Justice who is principled, courageous and articulate

Those aligned with Zuma and the RET faction, far from protecting the judiciary from decisions that may register as unpopular, seek actively to incite and inflame derision for the judiciary, writes Nicole Fritz. 

New Chief Justice has to guide the ConCourt through a myriad of challenges

In the Constitutional Court's transitional period, a strong leader is needed at the helm to ensure that the court emerges unscathed and intact from the challenges facing it, both from within and outside its walls, write Lawson Naidoo and Dan Mafora.

The current judicial climate makes selection of next Chief Justice important

Integral to a strong and independent judiciary, which the public can have confidence in, is the Chief Justice, writes the Helen Suzman Foundation's Chelsea Ramsden. 

To receive the Friday Briefing, sign up for the newsletter here.

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