Debate rages on white judges

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has reiterated the Judicial Service Commission’s constitutional mandate to transform the judiciary. Video: eNCA

CAPE TOWN - Are white male applicants for senior positions in the judiciary, being side-lined?

The question follows a leaked report by a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) commissioner.

It's prompted Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to reiterate the Judicial Service Commission’s constitutional mandate, to transform the judiciary.

The body has slammed allegations that it’s purposefully ignoring male applicants, as false.
The JSC  has been discussing a call by one of its members to "come clean" on the appointment of white men as judges.
The issue concerned is a discussion paper -- titled "Transformation and the Judicial Service Commission" -- prepared by practising advocate and senior counsel Izak Smuts, for presentation to the JSC.
In it, he reportedly says there exists "a very real perception in certain quarters that the JSC is, in general, set against the appointment of white male candidates except in exceptional circumstances".

"One way or the other, the JSC must deal with the uncomfortable perception that the graffiti on its wall reads 'white men can't judge,"  Smuts was quoted as saying.

He proposed that the JSC has "an honest debate" about its approach to the appointment of white male candidates.

"If the majority view is that... white male candidates are only to be considered for appointment in exceptional circumstances (an approach I consider to be unlawful and unconstitutional), the JSC should at the very least come clean and say so."

Smuts, who serves on the commission, contended this would prevent white male candidates being "put through the charade of an interview before being rejected".

The JSC has convened a five-day meeting in Cape Town to interview 23 short-listed candidates for 11 open judicial positions. The meeting ends on Friday. The short-list was decided in February this year.

There was a furore at that time over the JSC's rejection of Cape Town advocate Jeremy Gauntlett for appointment as a Constitutional Court judge. It was the fifth time Gauntlett was turned down for judicial appointment.

The justice ministry was not immediately available for comment on the issue. However, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, speaking during debate on his budget vote in Parliament in May last year, denied there were political agendas pursued by some JSC members.

"There are views... that the JSC tends to overlook quality and competence and that its decisions are influenced by political agendas. These sentiments are devoid of any truth and tend to undermine the integrity of the JSC's esteemed members...," he said at the time.

In October last year, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that the transformation of the judiciary was an ongoing "juggling act" between meeting constitutional objectives and appointing people who can carry out judicial functions effectively.

"Transformation is no longer about appointing black people and women to the judiciary -- there are added factors," Mogoeng said at the time.


- Additional reporting eNCA


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