BLA requests Minister Lamola to exercise constitutional powers in the appointment of acting judges to High Courts

May 25th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) has requested Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, to exercise his constitutional powers in respect of the appointment of acting judges for the High Court. In a statement released by the BLA, the BLA said that it had observed that in High Courts, particularly the Western Cape and Gauteng Divisions, the courts are still falling short of the requisite representation of the South African population.

The BLA pointed out that in April a list of acting judges for term two in the Western Cape High Court was published, however, none of the candidates on the list was black. The BLA further added that the majority of the candidates were male and that there was only one female candidate among the ten candidates on the list. Similarly, the list provided by the Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court reflects a higher concentration of white male acting judges.

The BLA’s national executive committee said that permanent judges at the Western Cape Division do not represent the demographics of South Africa. The BLA added that it finds the current state of affairs ‘abhorrent and unacceptable’ more so that heads of these courts are themselves beneficiaries of transformation. The BLA pointed out that the absence of demographic representation among the acting judges cannot be attributed to lack of qualified and able black men and women but can only be attributed to lack of will to do the right thing from the Judge Presidents.

The BLA pointed out that an important aspect of acting judges lies in the fact that permanent judges are ultimately appointed from a pool of acting judges. The BLA added that naturally, if the pool of acting judges is not representative of the demographics of South Africa, that non-representation will be carried forward to the level of permanent judges and, accordingly, the lack of representation will be maintained perpetually. The BLA said that there are many qualified and able black men and women from whose ranks acting judges may be appointed. Including magistrates, advocates, attorneys, legal academics and scholars.

The BLA added that it did not understand why the power to appoint acting judges has been left in the hands of the Judge Presidents and that it is a complete violation of the provisions of s 175(2) of the Constitution. The organisation pointed out that s 175(2) provides that the cabinet member responsible for the administration of justice must appoint acting judges to High Courts after consulting the Judge President of the court on which the acting judge will serve.

The BLA said that it places it on record that ‘failure to radically change these appointments, [the organisation] will embark on a very radical action to make sure this matter is once and for all resolved’. The organisation added that without a complete transformation of the judiciary, the dream of integrating the African laws and customs into the mainstream jurisprudence will forever remain a smoke screen. ‘We call upon the Justice Minister to release the list of acting judges to the profession and for the general public to see the injustices perpetuated right in the judiciary,’ the statement read.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.