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Cape Town - A tender to study the impact of judgments by the country's two top courts has been awarded to the Human Sciences Research (HSRC) Council and Fort Hare University's law school.
The decision was confirmed by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and the HSRC, who said it would launch the review within a few weeks.
“The contract has not been signed yet, so I cannot provide details... except to confirm that the department is aiming to have the project officially launched by mid-September,” said Narnia Bohler-Muller, the deputy director of the HRSC's democracy, governance and service delivery programme, on Monday.
The HSRC confirmed, however, that the brief for the R10 million contract included studying the impact of judgments of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal on the country's socio-economic climate and on poverty alleviation.
Radebe, in response to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance, gave more detail of the wide-ranging terms of reference of the 18-month review.
He said it would be a “comprehensive analysis” of the decisions of the two courts in the post-apartheid era, and how they had contributed to the reform of South African jurisprudence and addressing inequality.
The review should also evaluate the accessibility of the Constitutional Court, and the speed at which it finalised cases.
Crucially, the study should also look into the implementation of both courts' decisions and “the capacity of the state within the available resources to realise the outcome envisaged by such court decisions”, Radebe said.
The planned review was first announced by the minister in 2011, and raised fears that it could compromise the independence of the judiciary.
Not long before, then human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale told Parliament that he planned to approach the chief justice about a court ruling on providing accommodation for squatters because it risked throwing housing policy into chaos.
Among those who warned against an assessment of the courts was veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos, who said: “I would appeal to parliamentarians and others that in relation to matters of justice, the courts are our final arbiters. Please believe it.”
DA MP Debbie Schafer on Monday said the review appeared to be sinister and a waste of scarce resources.
“To spend this kind of money on a project that is, in our view, completely unnecessary and in fact sinister, given the government’s comments over the last few years, is indicative of a government with very skewed priorities.”
Schafer said Fort Hare and the HSRC were compromising their integrity by taking up the brief, and noted that the mission statement of the latter was to conduct “policy-relevant” research.
“How can an assessment of judgments of our independent courts be relevant to policy, unless the intention is to interfere with the courts in some way? Policy formulation is the job of the executive. Interpretation of that policy is the work of the courts,” she said.
Radebe has denied that the review is an attack on the judiciary and said the majority of judges had no problem with it.