Judges Conference wants judiciary's institutional independence fast tracked

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Picture: Timothy Bernard/Independent Newspapers

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Picture: Timothy Bernard/Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 7, 2023


President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to meet with Chief Justice Raymond Zondo next week to discuss the pressing matter of the fast tracking of the judiciary’s institutional independence.

The Heads of Courts convened in Sun City this week for the Judges Conference, with the matter of the judiciary’s institutional independence being one of the big talking points for the meeting.

The Heads of Courts include the top presiding officers from the 10 High Court divisions, the Labour and Labour Appeal Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, Electoral Court, Land Claims Court, Competition Appeal Court, the Constitutional Court and the Magistrate’s Courts.

The Judges Conference concluded on Thursday afternoon, with Chief Justice Zondo reporting back to a press conference that the conference had resolved to expedite the matter of the judiciary acquiring it's own institutional independence.

He said a truly independent judiciary would be able to take full ownership of the court administration processes, control its own budgets, decide on its own where new courts needed to be built and on the adoption of new technologies in the courts.

Zondo said this function was currently a function of the executive as led by Ramaphosa and his Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

Zondo also added that outside of litigation potentially forcing the executive to relinquish control, there was nothing more that the members of the judiciary could do after putting pressure on the executive for 10 years.

“The Judges Conference has resolved that the issue of the institutional independence of the judiciary be expedited. For a period of 10 years, the judiciary has given the executive proposals on the model of court administration and the executive for about 10 years, they did not respond.

“That has impeded our attempts to get full institutional independence,” said Zondo.

“Conference felt this matter must be given urgent attention”.

He said he would be meeting Ramaphosa next week and said it was important that they met before the end of the year.

Zondo said a report by former chief justices Pias Langa and Arthur Chaskalson made recommendations on steps that needed to be taken to ensure that the country had a judiciary based court administration, while he also appointed Judge Bernard Ngoepe to head a panel to investigate some of the recommendations.

Another issue arising out of the Judges Conference was that of the lower courts, where the Judiciary expressed unhappiness that the Department of Justice and not the Office of the Chief Justice, was responsible for the magistrates.

The Judges Conference wants magistrates to be incorporated under the OCJ, which is responsible for providing support to the judiciary and deals with administrative matters.

“The OCJ is also supposed to deal with the Magistrate's, but the executive seems not to be keen to allow Magistrates to move from the Department of Justice to the OCJ.

“This is a matter we discussed with my predecessor Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the Conference also felt very strongly that this needs to be given urgent attention so that the Judiciary can all be under the OCJ, so that speaks to the issue of a single judiciary,” he said.

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