Titles do not make a good judge

August 22nd, 2019

President of the Law Society of South Africa and National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Mvuzo Notyesi, spoke at the official opening of the Judicial Skills Training held on 21 July in White River, Mpumalanga.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) hosted the annual Judicial Skills Training Project in partnership with the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) in White River, Mpumalanga from 21 to 25 July. At the official opening of the training, President of the LSSA and NADEL, Mvuzo Notyesi said NADEL and the LSSA came to the realisation that within the legal profession there is a limited pool from which future judges can be drawn. He added that it has become important to be a part of the contribution in society and assist with the project of rebuilding South Africa (SA). Both NADEL and the LSSA can assist society in creating a pool, which will create judges.

Mr Notyesi shared the following quote: ‘The tone of your professional character, intellectually and morally, will depend on the estimate, which you form of the nature of the duties which you have undertaken, and of the spirit which ought to actuate you’ (Samuel Warren The moral, social, and professional duties of attorneys and solicitors (W Blackwood 1848 at 16). He pointed out that one of the visions for the country by those who drafted the Constitution before 1994, was to bring prosperity to all on the basis of non-racialism, where there is unity among the people, a vision of a country that will be a dream for all who live in it.

Mr Notyesi said: ‘We must play a role to build a strong vibrant democracy that encourages truth and justice for all, if we do not see a strong and vibrant democracy and strengthen the separation of power and the rule of law, surely SA would have been a failed project. This is a dream that is articulated in our Constitution.’ Mr Notyesi added that until recently, one would find a judge who would delay judgments, a judge who does not even understand the project that South Africans have undertaken, which is to build a kind of South Africa that inspires all who live in it. He pointed out that if one traced the roots of such judges, they will find that it has to do with a lack of commitment.

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Frans Legodi, addressing legal practitioners at the Judicial Skills Training for Legal Practitioners that is hosted annually by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers in partnership with the Law Society of South Africa.

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Frans Legodi, gave the keynote address on what it means to be a judge. He said legal practitioners who attend the judicial skills training should perhaps be asked, whether they want to be judges. He asked if the position of a judge is a prestigious one, so prestigious that wherever judges go people stand up? He added that judges should not forget that respect is earned.

Judge President Legodi said he asked his colleagues and some members of society what it meant to be a judge. He added that the answers he received were quite revealing and he learned that one should have –

  • integrity;
  • work ethic;
  • qualification and self-development;
  • legal knowledge;
  • relevant experience and performance;
  • potential;
  • be able to implement s 174(2) of the Constitution;
  • leadership and management skills;
  • language prescience and communication capabilities;
  • commitment to transformation and development; and
  • be able to establish interpersonal relationships and take responsibility.

Judge President Legodi pointed out that he pondered on all the qualities that he was given and wondered if they were all relevant to make a judge and his answer was yes. ‘I further asked myself if one was to show four of these in terms of preference, where would the finger point? This came to minds –

  • integrity;
  • work ethic;
  • relevant experience and performance; and
  • establishing interpersonal relationships and taking responsibility.

Judge President Legodi started with responsibility and said those who knew better put it this way: ‘The ultimate quality of a responsible person is the ability to finish it’. He added that the author of An open road (Publishers  Press 1971) Richards L Evans put it this way: ‘It is priceless to find a person who will take responsibility, who will finish and follow through to the final detail – to know when someone has accepted an assignment that it will be effectively, conscientiously completed.’ Judge President Legodi said this statement speaks to another aspect, namely work ethic. He pointed out that acceptance of any position of responsibility is an undertaking, which one makes, and they are capable of executing duties with excellence.

Judge President Legodi referred to a quote from John C Maxwell in The 21 indispensable qualities of a leader (Thomas Nelson 1999) at 115, which states: ‘Excellence is a great motivator. People who desire excellence – and work hard to achieve it – are almost, always responsible. And when they give their all, they live at peace’. He said this statement should be one of the highlights of what a judge should be, which includes any person who accepts responsibility. ‘As they say responsible people never protest, they never say that is not my job, they are willing to do whatever it takes to complete the work that is needed by their organisation,’ Judge President Legodi added.

Judge President Legodi pointed out that if one wants to succeed in life, they have to be willing to put their organisation ahead of their own agenda. ‘The question again, what it means to be a judge? If your answer is yes, ask yourself the next question, am I a responsible person? Do I have a work ethic?’ Judge President Legodi added that work ethic is often complemented by relevant experience and performance. ‘I have been told you were selected to be part of this workshop based on your years of experience. Experience is one thing and performance is another, I have seen people with vast experience but with less output. You might have experience but if you do not perform or deliver your experience means nothing, but then what about integrity?’ Judge President Legodi asked.

Judge President Legodi asked legal practitioners who attended the training if they could be judges without integrity? He said integrity is everything one has as a person and without integrity it does not matter what position one holds for they are nothing. He pointed out that one must protect and defend one’s integrity with everything one has. He defined integrity as follows: To know between right and wrong, but most importantly to have the ability and the strength to listen to one’s conscience. ‘All that you need is the ability to resist the temptation to not listen to your own conscience. That is what it means to be a judge with integrity,’ Judge President Legodi said.

The coordinators and legal practitioners who attended the annual Judicial Skills Training Project in July, with seated front row from left: President of the Law Society of South Africa and National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Mvuzo Notyesi; Gauteng Division of the High Court Judge, Sheila Mphahlele; Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Frans Legodi; Gauteng Division of the High Court Judge, Tati Makgoka; and Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Aubrey Ledwaba.

Judge President Legodi spoke about interpersonal relationships with people. He said a story that was told to him was that leading without a title is the purest form of leadership and as a judge one is a leader. He added that it may not always be easy, but it is necessary to lead when you have people around you. He said that some people want to lead, but frustration sets in because they feel that their title does not allow them to lead. Judge President Legodi pointed out that titles do not make a better leader or a good leader, however, influence does.

‘We all have the opportunity to influence others positively. The point of this is that the ability to work with people and develop relationships is indispensable and effective. Remember as a judge you have to be a leader. A true judge must have empathy for others. He or she should seek to have the ability to find the best in people and truly care for people. As they put it, one cannot be a true and effective person or judge, the kind that people want to follow unless you love people. If your focus is what you can put into people, rather than what you can get out of people, those people will love and respect you,’ Judge President Legodi said.

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