Chief Justice RAYMOND ZONDO set to meet President RAMAPHOSA over ‘unacceptable’ delays in creating a fully independent Judiciary

Friday, January 12, 2024
 – Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has called on the Executive to ensure the country gets a fully independent judiciary.

Judges attending the 2023 Judges’ Conference have also called for changes to the Judicial Service Commission Act to create the capacity needed to adjudicate on misconduct complaints.

Zondo said the executive was “unwilling to let go” of the administration of magistrates.

Zondo was critical of the Executive’s unwillingness to give the third arm of Government full independence, saying judges at the conference had decided the issue “should be expedited”.

Zondo had spoken about the issue on Tuesday, 5 December, the opening day of the conference and it seems his initial comments were noted.

He said the Presidency had contacted him on Wednesday to set up a meeting and there were plans for him to meet Ramaphosa in the coming week.

“What will the judiciary do if the executive doesn’t come to the party? The fact of the matter is that the judiciary has got to get money from the executive. If money is not made available to the judiciary so that certain matters that need to be addressed can be addressed, there is very little that we can do,” he said.

Zondo added that many issues that were experienced and witnessed by judges could be fixed if they did not have to rely on the Executive for funding.

“That is part of the reason why we insist that there is full institutional independence. Very often we must go to the executive and say, we need this, we need that. It’s like we must go to them and beg,” he said.

The Judiciary made a proposal on how an independent judiciary should be set up 10 years ago, but has still received no response. Zondo said this was “unacceptable”.

“Short of litigation, what could the judiciary do if the executive has been given our proposals and they decided they are not going to respond for 10 years? The judiciary puts pressure and talks to them; in the end, if they decide they are not going to respond, that is just that,” he said. 

Asked what the judiciary would do to ensure that changes were made, Zondo made an impassioned plea to members of the public to advocate for the changes to be made urgently. 

“In some countries, some members of the public resort to litigation against the government to force government to make resources available to the judiciary so that the judiciary can do its job properly,” he said.

“We need the public to be aware and to know that when we talk about institutional independence and a judicial-led court administration model, we don’t just need it for ourselves. We need it in order to serve the public better. We want to be able to serve the public better. That is one of the sentiments that has been stressed in the conference.

“The public must ask the executive, ‘Why are you not creating posts for judges in courts’ that you have been told about? ‘Why are you not building more courtrooms?’

“In other countries, enough money is given to the judiciary which has got institutional independence. Where it is the judges who decide and they can put money aside and make sure the courtrooms are built. But that is not the position in South Africa,” said Zondo.

The conference also discussed the issue of disciplining judges, which is handled by the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC).

“We include retired judges to be part of the JCC where we can get them. But we mustn’t take for granted the availability of retired judges, because they are busy with arbitrations. We are going to have to ask that the JSC Act be amended to allow the JCC to have many members, so that complaints can be dealt with by many people. The burden of doing JCC cases will be dealt with by many. In that way, they will be dealt with expeditiously,” Zondo said.

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