02.03.2012.Justice Minister Jeff Radebe speaks out after he unveiled the discussion document at a briefing at Parliament on Thursday that was intended to allay fears that the evaluation could constitute an attack on the independence of the judiciary. Picture : Sizwe Ndingane

JUSTICE MINISTER Jeff Radebe has defended his department’s planned assessment of judgments of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), saying it is not an attack on the judiciary.

The Sunday Independent spoke to Radebe yesterday following his budget vote speech in the National Assembly this week, in which he responded to comments by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

In a lecture given at Georgetown University in the US recently, Justice Moseneke said: “The suggestion that courts stand in the way of transformation, in my view, is mischievous and totally opportunistic.”

There has been tension between the judiciary and the government for several months, after comments by some in the ANC that the courts were trying to take over the role of the elected government.

Several high-profile court decisions against government and the Justice Department’s discussion document on the transformation of the judicial system and the role of the judiciary in the developmental SA state have resulted in heated debate.

The government also released terms of reference for the assessment of the impact of the decisions of the Concourt and the SCA.

In his speech on Thursday, Radebe said some commentators had “maliciously lamented the terms of reference”.

Asked whether the Bench was under attack, Radebe said no.

“There is nothing in that document that attacks the judiciary. My understanding is that the majority of judges have no problem whatsoever with the approach which we have adopted on the issue of the assessment of court judgments,” he said.

“Those that think it is an attack on them, it’s not an accurate reflection of what is contained in that document.

“We are not a one-track-minded as a department. Where views are significant and convince us that they are right, we adjust our approach because at the end of the day we want to build a justice system that the people of South Africa must be proud of,” he said.

The department had extended the deadline for comment to June 1 and would consider all comments submitted, he added.

Radebe will announce the details of his plans to transform the State Legal Service tomorrow.

Some R24 million has been set aside for the project, which is aimed at addressing unnecessary spending on ill-fated litigation and and changing briefing patterns of the state attorney’s office to increase the number of black and women lawyers who are given work by the state.

This year the department’s budget is R15.48 billion - R600m less than last year. More than half will go to court services and the National Prosecuting Authority. Over the next three years, R3.2 bn has been budgeted for new courts including high courts in Polokwane and Mbombela (Nelspruit).

Sunday Independent