Cape Town - South Africa's judiciary should not have a politician in the form of a justice minister “hovering” over it, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said on Friday.
“Because for as long as you have the executive, in the form of the minister of justice, playing a political oversight role over the judiciary, then you have a problem,” he told a meeting of the SA National Editors' Forum in Cape Town.
“For as long as you have a judiciary that does not have its own board account, does not have its own budget, 1/8and 3/8 has no say in the appointment of the support staff that ought to strengthen its capacity to deliver justice to the people, then you've got a problem.
“And human beings, irrespective of who they are, can be tricky. You just never know how the control... of functions and the control of the budget could be used with a view to influencing the judiciary to do things, or some within the judiciary to do things, that they ought not to be doing.”
Mogoeng conceded, in reply to a question, that his office was possibly “a bit too aggressive” in championing the cause for institutional independence of the judiciary, but said such pressure was yielding results.
Former justice minister Jeff Radebe had signed a document, in April this year, transferring a host of functions to the office of the chief justice.
And, circumstances permitting, “the office of the chief justice should be having its budget vote... transferred to it”.
President Jacob Zuma appeared “very supportive” of an independent judiciary.
Mogoeng said he had told Zuma: “If the executive want to avoid creating the unfortunate impression that your government is anti judicial independence, then you've got to give practical expression to what Section 165 of the Constitution requires.”
This, Mogoeng said, was a judiciary so independent it had its own core administration system in place.
“But it shouldn't end there. This national department mode is not satisfactory because, for as long as it's a national department, you need a political head. And the judiciary cannot have anything to do with a system that has a politician hovering over it.
“The proposals that we have transmitted to the executive, and we're still awaiting a response... propose a model that is similar to the Auditor General, created in terms of legislation.
“That's what we want to see,” he said.
Referring to the overhauling of court rules, Mogoeng said if everything went according to plan, “come November, we should be having the first round”.
However, “the sad part is we have to go through the same old route”, which included the justice ministry.
“And we (have) experienced untold delays and frustrations, particularly at a ministerial level, when rules of court have to be finalised.
“I have just never understood, and I doubt if I'll ever understand, why... the executive has to be involved in making rules about something... in which they do not operate and possibly know little about.”