"DA strongly supports concerns raised by Judge Carol Lewis"

Statement issued by the Democratic Alliance October 15 2008

SA judiciary needs to be strengthened to protect all South Africans

The Democratic Alliance (DA) strongly supports the concerns raised by Supreme Court of Appeal judge Carol Lewis on the state of our judiciary. Delivering a lecture hosted by the South African Institute of Race Relations last night [see here], Judge Lewis stated that the judiciary is being weakened by a lack of skills and experience, which affects the quality of judgements and causes undesirable criminal convictions and acquittals.

In her speech, Judge Lewis said it is important that "new appointments are made only because of skill and experience and not solely because of race, and especially not political fealty". Judge Lewis's concerns about political appointees are particularly worrying, given how important it is for judges to be apolitical.

A strong and independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of a constitutional democracy, and without it, the public have no means of seeking protection from unlawful executive and legislative action. A weak judiciary means that there is nothing standing between civil society and the abuse of power by government. Furthermore, in an environment where crime is out of control, a strong judiciary is critical in ensuring that criminals receive appropriate sentences which are not, for example, subject to poor decision-making by a judge.

To further enhance and develop the strength of our judiciary, it is vital that we find the best candidates and allow them to do their jobs properly.

Instead, many key judicial posts are vacant and being filled by acting judges who are not offered permanent positions. Ongoing attempts by the government to exert more control over the judiciary, combined with public attacks on judges threaten our judiciary and, in turn, our democracy.

At the end of this month, the DA will release a comprehensive document containing recommended action steps to strengthen and enhance the independence of the judiciary.

Statement issued by Dr Tertius Delport, MP, Democratic Alliance spokesperson on Justice, October 15 2008