Invitation for public participation in the selection of the new Chief Justice

October 1st, 2021

In a move that has not been seen in recent history, President Cyril Ramaphosa has invited nominations for the position of the next Chief Justice. In a press release issued by the Presidency, President Ramaphosa notes that the reason for this decision is to promote transparency and encourage public participation, which translates to South Africans taking part in the choice of the next Chief Justice.

Section 174(3) of the Constitution states: ‘The President as head of the national executive, after consulting the Judicial Service Commission and the leaders of parties represented in the National Assembly, appoints the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice and, after consulting the Judicial Service Commission, appoints the President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal.’ The term of the current Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng comes to an end on 11 October 2021.

The position of Chief Justice is an important one in the system of the South African judicial system. In terms of s 165(6) of the Constitution: ‘The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and exercises responsibility over the establishment and monitoring of norms and standards for the exercise of the judicial functions of all court’ (subs (6) added by s 1 of the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act of 2012).

The press release by the Presidency states that: ‘The Chief Justice is responsible for leading the creation of jurisprudence as he or she presides over proceeding of the Constitutional Court. He or she is also responsible for setting and overseeing the maintenance of the standards for the exercise of the judicial functions of [the South African] courts, and chairing the Judicial Services Commission’.

President Ramaphosa said: ‘The Chief Justice occupies a vital position in our democratic constitutional order. It is, therefore, appropriate that all South Africans should have an opportunity to witness and participate in the selection of the next Chief Justice. We expect that this process will further deepen public confidence in the independence and integrity of the judiciary.’

South Africans are invited to nominate suitably qualified candidates for the position of Chief Justice. The process is as follows:


Any person may nominate candidates for the position of Chief Justice. These nominations should be accompanied by the endorsement and support of at least one professional body of legal practitioners, or non-governmental organisation working in the field of human rights, or other legal areas.

Nominations should set out the reasons why the nominee is deemed suitable to be the next Chief Justice, their experience both as a legal practitioner, including any experience as a judge, and as a leader.

All nominations with all supporting documents must be sent to and by 1 October 2021. They must include:

  • A letter of nomination, including the contact details of the nominator.
  • The nominee’s acceptance of the nomination and their contact details.
  • Letters of support for the nomination, including contact details of persons or entities that support the nomination, including at least one letter of support from a professional body of legal practitioners, non-governmental organisation working in the field of human rights, or another legal field.
  • Any additional documentation that the person nominating the candidate for Chief Justice deems relevant.

All nominations and supporting documents (save for personal information) will be made public on the Presidency website by 4 October 2021. Any objections to the nominees will need to be motivated, in writing, and sent to the above e-mail address at the latest by Friday 15 October 2021.

Panel to shortlist nominees

After receiving the nominations, a panel of eminent persons with relevant experience will shortlist between three and five candidates. The panel will decide how best to compile the shortlist openly, transparently and expeditiously.

The panel will consist of:

  • Former Judge of the International Court of Justice and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, as Chairperson.
  • Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola.
  • Former Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe.
  • Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
  • Co-chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, Mmapaseka Steve Letsike.
  • Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law, Professor Ziyad Motala.

The panel will be required to report to the President by Friday, 29 October 2021.

Consultation with Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and political party leaders

The President will decide which candidates from the shortlist presented to him by the panel of eminent persons to refer to the JSC and the leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly for consultation, as required by the Constitution, before appointing the new Chief Justice.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2021 (Oct) DR 3.