The Black Lawyers' Association has leapt into the fray and lambasted Constitutional Court judge Justice Kate O'Regan for criticising the government's decision to refuse to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country.

In an interview, BLA deputy president Sithembele Mgxaji said it was "mischievous" for Justice O'Regan to comment on "an issue of a political nature. She cannot, as a judge, comment on acts of the government, especially an issue that resides with the executive".

And Pierre de Vos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of the Western Cape, on Sunday said judges needed to tread carefully when criticising executive government decisions.

"They have to guard their independence and legitimacy," said De Vos.

However, De Vos said he did not expect the judge to land in hot water for her comments.

This follows reports that Justice O'Regan publicly backed embattled Health Minister Barbara Hogan at a function in Johannesburg.

Speaking at the Aurum Institute for Health Research's 10th birth-day celebrations in Parktown, Justice O'Regan said it was a "matter of dismay" that the government would deny access to the Dalai Lama when, "during our human rights struggle", the country received assistance and support from the international community.

"I share the dismay you expressed last night," she said to Hogan, who was present.

Hogan publicly criticised the government over the refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to attend a soccer peace conference with other Nobel peace laureates last week.

"I believe (the government) needs to apologise to the citizens of this country, because it is in your name that this great man, who has struggled for the rights of his country, has been denied access."

The BLA felt that Justice O'Regan overstepped her boundaries and needed to be censured.

"This is a form of misconduct, as she is commenting on executive matters. She is a judge and must not concern herself with politics," a legal source told The Star.

The BLA could still lay a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission, but Mgxaji said no decision had been taken to that effect, although it was meeting on April 17, where the issue could be on the agenda.

Justice O'Regan, who delivered a landmark Constitutional Court decision allowing expatriates to vote in the April 22 elections, is a former ANC adviser on land claims legislation.

Her term of office at the Constitutional Court comes to an end in October, after her appointment in 1994 at the age of 37.

In the 1980s she practised as an attorney in Joburg, specialising in labour law and land rights law, and she acted for a wide range of trade unions, anti-apartheid organisations and several communities facing the threat of evictions under apartheid land policy.

Justice O'Regan could not be contacted for comment.