Symptoms of a state in gradual collapse discussed at NADEL conference

May 22nd, 2019

By Mapula Sedutla and Kgomotso Ramotsho

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) held its policy conference and annual general meeting (AGM) from 14 to 16 March in Johannesburg. The well attended conference was held under the theme: ‘Poverty, Inequalities and Corruption: Symptoms of a State in Gradual Collapse’. Discussions at the conference touched on an array of topics, below is a summary of speeches and topics discussed at the conference.

Appointments of Constitutional Court judges

University of Cape Town, Pierre de Vos, discussed the terms of office for Constitutional Court judges.

NADEL hosted an open session to the public on 14 March. At this session titled ‘Time for reflections, constitutional review and the need for limitations and expansion of certain powers and terms of office set out in the Constitution,’ Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town, Pierre de Vos, discussed the terms of office for Constitutional Court judges. He said Constitutional Court judges are appointed to serve for 12 years. He added, however, that currently there are debates regarding the term a Constitutional Court judge is appointed to the Bench adding that there is an argument that it be extended to 15 years. Prof de Vos said the reason for this was to ensure stability in the Constitutional Court. He pointed out that there is a view that retraining personnel could create stability, and with a stronger and more unified court, the Constitutional Court could produce better and higher quality judgments.

Prof de Vos, however, pointed out that there are those who are against extending the term of judges at the Constitutional Court. He said that it might not be a good idea to ‘serve for life’. He gave an example of the United States Supreme Court where judges serve for life. He said it is not desirable to see judges clinging to the position at court even if they, in terms of their health, are not well. He pointed out that the system used to appoint Constitutional Court judges is very specific. The term must allow judges to get to know the job and put things in place for the stability of the institution.

Prof de Vos suggested that there be middle ground in the issue. He said maybe having Constitutional Court judges serve for 15 years might mean not losing people with integrity, skills and brilliant legal minds. However, he pointed out that 12 years is not a short period either.

Former President of the Black Lawyers Association, Busani Mabunda, discussed the appointments of judges in the Constitutional Court at the National Association of Democratic Lawyers annual general meeting.

Former President of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Busani Mabunda, added that it is the right of citizens, as enshrined in the Constitution, to raise issues that are believed to form part of a constitutional amendment. He said the Constitution allows for provisions through a parliamentary process and members of the public can use the process in the National Assembly to express their views. He referred to the time when there was a constitutional amendment, which aligned the courts with the current constitutional set up, following the new dispensation.

Mr Mabunda said s 174 of the Constitution was considered as the Bible when appointing members of the judiciary. He added that with the appointment of the chief justice and the deputy chief justice, the president of the country will make an appointment, after consultation with other members of parliament, which includes opposition parties, as well as the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). This process has been followed before. He pointed out that there is a provision that if the president thinks the person nominated is not suitable, the JSC must review the matter and submit further names of possible appointees.

Member of the Legal Practice Council and National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Krish Govender, said there were serious constitutional violations happening around the world.

Member of the Legal Practice Council (LPC) and NADEL, Krish Govender said South Africa (SA) is still enjoying something precious. He said in some parts of the world there are serious constitutional violations happening. He pointed out that in countries, such as the Philippines, lawyers are being jailed and killed for acting on behalf of unions and workers. He said these challenges go to the root of the legal system. Mr Govender said if legal practitioners in SA are not protecting the Constitution and ensuring that it is sustained for the benefit of the citizens in the country, then SA will be forgetting that it has something precious.

Mapula Sedutla NDip Journ (DUT) BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the editor of De Rebus and Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.


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