Absence of consultation in extension of Chief Justice's term a cause for concern
The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern the announcement by President Zuma at a meeting with opposition parties last week, of his decision to extend the term of office of the current Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Judge Sandile Ngcobo, under the provisions of the Judges Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act (2001).
The President saw fit to advise opposition parties of this decision as a fait accompli. In reaching this decision, President Zuma acted without the benefit of any prior consultation process and elected to unilaterally extend Chief Justice Ngcobo's term by a period of five years.
While the DA does not call into question the qualities of Chief Justice Ngcobo, nor indeed the extension of the term of office of a Chief Justice in appropriate circumstances, such a decision clearly has potentially significant repercussions.
These repercussions relate not only to developments within the law in general, but also to the career paths of all other potential incumbents to this position - it being the highest office of the South African judiciary.
The recent extension of Chief Justice Ngcobo's term of office was performed in the absence of any public consultation, whether by way of a debate in parliament prior to the introduction of a specific Act in this regard, or via the Judicial Services Commission, which is the constitutional body set up to advise the President on issues such as this. The absence of such consultation cannot be condoned.
The DA notes that various legal watch groups have already announced an intention to challenge this process for these reasons. The DA will seek to ensure that the outcome of such challenges will give greater clarity regarding the extent of the President's powers in this regard, as well as the role of public consultation in that process.
Statement issued by Athol Trollip MP, DA Parliamentary Leader, June 7 2011
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