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      The independence of South African judges: A constitutional and legislative perspective

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          Abstract

          Judicial independence is fundamental to democracy. It is in that context that this paper considers whether the existing constitutional and legislative mechanisms provide sufficient judicial independence to South African judges. In so doing, the paper focuses on impartiality, judicial appointments and security of tenure. It also discusses the sensitive matter of complaints and disciplinary proceedings against judges and their removal from office. The issue of the remuneration of judges is also explored. In discussing the challenges facing judicial independence some incidents that have appeared to compromise such independence are highlighted. These include the controversial appointments of Advocate Mpshe as an acting judge in the North West Province in 2010 and Judge Heath as the Head of the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) in 2011. The never-ending controversy surrounding the Cape Judge President John Hlophe and his alleged attempts to improperly influence two Constitutional Court judges in a case involving President Jacob Zuma is also highlighted. Another issue that has brought judicial independence into sharp focus is the June 2015 visit to South Africa of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who was on a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide and war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan. A decision by the North Gauteng High Court on his presence in South Africa and the attacks on the judiciary made by various government officials as a result are discussed. Several conclusions are drawn but in the main, it is generally concluded that the constitutional and legislative framework adopted by South Africa sufficiently insulates judges from improper influence. However, there have been several notable challenges that particularly relate to judicial appointments and how the JSC has handled certain matters. Irresponsible and uninformed political statements by politicians and unwarranted political attacks on the judiciary by government are also a source of great concern. These challenges could and should be construed as threats to judicial independence, and need to be comprehensively and properly addressed.

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          Most cited references26

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          Reassessing judicial independence and impartiality against the backdrop of judicial appointments in South Africa

          K Malan (2014)
          The South African Judicial Service Commission (JSC), considered to be exemplary for its independence, plays a pivotal part in judicial appointments. Yet the Commission has long been marred by tensions that have lately erupted into a full-blown conflict between those who could here be referred to as the transformationists, on the one hand, and the liberals, on the other. The transformationists, who may generally be regarded as falling within the sphere of influence of the ruling elite under the African National Congress (ANC), are bent on pursuing the policy of transformation. Hence they insist that the composition of the bench must reflect the national population profile and on individual judges' pursuing the ruling party's ideological goals. The liberals reject this as a threat to judicial independence and the professional competence of the judiciary. On close analysis the clash is based on incompatible interpretations of judicial independence and impartiality. This article is a critique of these interpretations against the backdrop of an assessment of what these notions can reasonably be expected to achieve. It is argued that the liberals are harbouring unrealistic views about judiciaries, believing them to wield power which may even extend over matters of political significance, powers on a par with or even outweighing those of the political branches. However, on proper analysis it is clear that the judiciary is in fact, firstly, inherently weak and dependent on the support of the political branches; and, secondly, it is integrated into the ruling elite with whom they share the same ideological assumptions without any inclination to oppose them. Hence, the impartiality of the courts, when it comes to politically sensitive issues, is distinctively politically (regime) relative and ideologically conditioned. Ironically the transformationists have bought into the liberals' erroneous belief in the potency of the courts (in the above-mentioned sense) and they fear, without foundation, for the political risks the courts might be posing to the ruling elite. This fear is based on an exaggerated vision of the far-reaching consequences that they ascribe to judicial independence and impartiality, believing it to render the judiciary a formidable political force on a par with the political branches. The transformationists would therefore go to extreme lengths to secure an amenable judiciary. This is exemplified by their rather improper insistence that the best candidates need not be appointed, thus compromising even the (limited) independence and impartiality which courts, on a realistic assessment, should have. In doing this the transformationists show a serious lack of appreciation of the distinctive professional nature of the judiciary, whose independence, impartiality and effectiveness are rooted not in political might but in the exceptional professional competence of the incumbents on the bench, who should be drawn from the best candidates the legal professional can produce.
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            The Doctrine of Separation of Powers with Specific Reference to Events in South Africa and Zimbabwe

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              "Transformation of the Judiciary: The Politics of the Judiciary in a Democratic South Africa"

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: ND
                Role: ND
                Journal
                pelj
                PER: Potchefstroomse Elektroniese Regsblad
                PER
                Publication of North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
                1727-3781
                2015
                : 18
                : 4
                : 817-846
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Legal Resources Centre
                [2 ] University of KwaZulu-Natal
                Article
                S1727-37812015000400004
                10.4314/pelj.v18i4.03
                18420433-5911-4c7e-8178-5aec8cff76a2

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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                Law

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