The controversial Superior Courts Bill and Contitution 14th Amendment Bill have been shelved after President Mbeki intervened directly. According to Mail & Guardian, President Mbeki ordered Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla to come up with draft legislation that is more acceptable to the judiciary:
The proposed constitutional changes are likely to be scrapped entirely.
The legislation appears to have been put on hold following the direct intervention of Mbeki, who, according to four people close to the process, first gave instructions that the period for public comment be extended, and then told Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Brigitte Mabandla to come up with proposals more acceptable to the judiciary.
Those moves have put justice deputy minister Johnny de Lange at odds with both Mbeki and Mabandla, and sharpened tensions in Parliament over the extent to which executive pressure is brought to bear on processes in the National Assembly.
The Bills are central to the package of measures devised by the justice ministry and Parliament’s justice committee, ostensibly to improve access to justice and accelerate the transformation of the judiciary.
While plans to rationalise the structure of the courts were generally welcomed, constitutional changes to hand full control of administrative functions to the justice minister, and to give the president an expanded role in the appointment of senior judicial officers were widely seen as undermining the independence of the judiciary.
The draft Superior Courts Bill was also intended to help rationalise the court structure and bring it into line with the nine provinces and the structure envisaged in the Constitution which came into force a decade ago.
South Africa’s ministry of justice and constitutional development says there is no truth in the assertion that President Thabo Mbeki has intervened and stopped the formal consideration of the "judges Bills".
In a statement on Friday, the ministry said the Bills "are still being considered and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will continue to interact with the judiciary on them".
It will be interesting to see what form the new versions of this legislation will take in due course. What is beyond doubt is that the government cannot assume a position of control over the judiciary in such a way as to compromise the judiciary’s independence. To do so could undermine the rule of law in South Africa down the line.