Meeting between the President and Chief Justice

September 30th, 2015

By Kevin O’ Reilly

A seven-hour meeting between the judiciary and executive took place on 27 August at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

President Jacob Zuma chaired the meeting between the National Executive and the judiciary in his capacity as Head of State. The meeting was at the request of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

President Zuma noted the ‘historic’ nature of the meeting. He stated that the meeting, requested by the Chief Justice, was a result of concern regarding public statements made questioning the integrity of the executive and judiciary. ‘The judiciary and the executive each reaffirmed their commitment to the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and the separation of powers all of which, underscore our constitutional democracy. We also reiterated our commitment to the institutional integrity of all arms of the state,’ he said.

The following was agreed on at the meeting:

  • Respect for the separation of powers and the integrity of the two institutions.
  • To exercise care and caution with regards to public statements and pronouncements criticising one another.
  • To promote the values and ethos of the Constitution.  The arms of the state should not be seen to be antagonistic towards one another in public.
  • The transformation of the judiciary and the legal profession are at the heart of our constitutional enterprise and the parties have a responsibility to strive towards its achievement.
  • In those instances where judges are believed to have conducted themselves unethically, other arms of the state, entities or members of the public should make use of the structures set up to address such concerns, and report them to the Judicial Conduct Committee of the Judicial Service Commission. Similarly complaints against magistrates must be reported to the Magistrate’s Commission.
  • All have a duty to protect and promote the Constitution to all citizens as the supreme law of the land.
  • Court orders should be respected and complied with.
  • An obligation to the people of South Africa and to promote access to justice. A responsibility to the people of South Africa to uphold the Constitution.
  • The meeting as a foundation of future engagements to discuss issues that may arise from time to time.
  • The administration of the courts, access to justice and transformation identified as issues requiring specific focus in future engagements.

The Chief Justice said: ‘I confirm the statement read out by the president as being a true reflection of the undertakings we collectively made as we move forward towards making South Africa a better constitutional democracy for all of our people. I reiterate that it was indeed an eye opener, an enriching exercise that can only bode well for both the executive, judiciary, the legislature and the entire populace of South Africa. I just want to reaffirm our collective commitment as a judiciary to executing our constitutional mandate only in a manner required of us by the Constitution and the law.’

In a media statement, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) welcomed the outcome of the meeting, saying that it was ‘important that the President and the Chief Justice reassured the public that court orders should be respected and complied with. It is our view that failure to do so would lead to a general atmosphere within organs of state and the general public of ignoring judgments of the courts which would in turn lead to the illegitimisation of the judiciary.’

Regarding transformation of the judiciary, NADEL said: ‘[O]ur views that both representivity and qualitative transformation are the cornerstone to realising the founding values of human dignity, equality, human rights and freedom’.

Kevin O’ Reilly MA (NMMU) is a sub-editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (Oct) DR 12.