'We have thick skins, but mind your tongue'

Constitutional Court Chief Justice Pius Langa on Monday urged the public to refrain from personal attacks on judges as this practice would weaken democracy.

"I think judges should have a thick skin and, having said that, I'm not encouraging people to call us names," Langa said at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Monday, held at the Constitutional Court.

"We work in public, we give our judgments in public, we give reasons for those judgments. We do expect people to scrutinise those judgments and to make their views known.

"But what we do insist on is that criticism of judges, judgments, should be fair, and should be reasonable, and should not impune the integrity of judges because in doing so are weakening a pillar of our democracy."

Langa continued: "Now what we would not want is criticism that goes to the integrity of a person - a drunk or counter-revolutionary - whatever - those are things we don't expect to hear from the general public, because it does tell us that they have not read the judgments we have given."

Langa said he accepted that it was freedom of expression "but I don't think people should be insulted".

Last year the judges came under fire for their judgments by supporters of ANC president Jacob Zuma and for the manner in which they handled a complaint to the Judicial Services Commission over an alleged attempt to interfere with the Zuma judgment.

"So how do we feel, we carry on, we just carry on."

Langa said the court was not only for the powerful and mighty, but also for the weak and the poor. Damaging the court's integrity "would destroy a bastion of freedom, something that people rely on".

He said the real test was when the people who called judges names would come back to the court when they had a dispute which they wanted to resolve.

"We are quite comfortable that we think the courts are doing a good job because we think the majority of people believe that." - Sapa

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