UNDERLYING the government’s plans to assess the decisions of the Constitutional Court is a measure of impatience over the length of time it is taking to transform the judiciary.
This is evident from a discussion document released yesterday by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe that he says is aimed at sparking a “national dialogue” on judicial reforms that have been on the table for over 14 years.
Radebe unveiled the discussion document at a briefing at Parliament yesterday that was intended to allay fears that the evaluation could constitute an attack on the independence of the judiciary.
Alarm bells were set ringing when President Jacob Zuma said in an interview with Independent Newspapers recently: “We don’t want to review the Constitutional Court, we want to review its powers.”
Zuma’s comments followed criticism of the courts by other senior ANC leaders, including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.
Yesterday, Radebe defended criticism of the judiciary as normal in a constitutional democracy and thus “both permissible and desirable”.
“Judges are not less immune to public scrutiny than members of the executive and legislature,” he said, saying “the independence of the judiciary is not at stake”.
The ANC-led government would defend the values of the constitution, which it had fought for, “at all cost”, including judicial independence and the rule of law – the “bedrock” of SA’s constitutional democracy.
“This reassurance comes against the backdrop of irresponsible commentary… intended to instill fear that the ANC is hell-bent on revoking the fundamental rights and freedoms that many had fought and some died for,” Radebe said.
“We want to allay those fears and reaffirm our commitment to the constitution.”
The cabinet said last year it would engage a reputable institution to carry out a comprehensive analysis of ConCourt’s decisions on the transformation of society and their impact on the lives of South Africans.
The discussion document stresses the need for all three branches of the state – the executive, legislature and the judiciary – to work together to realise the ideals of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.