President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Leon Nicholas.

Outgoing Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo had been passionate about achieving the constitutional right of equality before the law for all, including the poor and marginalised President Jacob Zuma paid him tribute at the end of his term of office on Sunday.

“We agree with Chief Justice Ngcobo that even the poorest of the poor must have access to the courts, they must receive quality justice and that they must attain relief speedily,” Zuma said in a statement.

“Chief Justice Ngcobo has served in a distinguished manner as an attorney, advocate, judge of various courts, law lecturer and ultimately as the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa,” Zuma said.

Ngcobo had played a significant role in developing institutional reforms which sought to define the role and place of the judiciary within the context of judicial independence and separation of powers embodied in the Constitution.

While he wished Ngcobo a restful retirement, Zuma trusted that he would not be averse to national duty if required.

In July, Zuma extended Ngcobo's term of office for five years, but Ngcobo declined the offer following a public outcry.

The Constitutional Court later ruled that the law Zuma used to extend Ngcobo's term was unconstitutional.

A new chief justice has yet to be appointed pending consultations with the Judicial Service Commission and political parties in Parliament.

Ngcobo handed down his final judgment on Thursday.

At a formal farewell ceremony held by the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke described him as “faithful to his own apotheosis” and a man of integrity. - Sapa