It looks like Parliament is going to have a few difficult items to deal with this year as far as the judiciary is concerned. The controversial Superior Courts Bill and proposed Constitution 14th Amendment Bill which President Mbeki shelved last year are back up for debate and intervening events like Cape Judge President John Hlope’s extra-curricular activities and, more recently, Judge Poswa’s controversial decisions will undoubtedly pressure the legislature to take steps to curb judicial misconduct while, at the same time, minimising legislative encroachment on judicial independence.
I’ve said this a couple times before but it is really important that the public have reasons to trust in our judiciary. The criminal justice system has been shown to be broken again and again in our media and our judges are the last line of defence between us and injustice. If the public loses faith it the judiciary then we will be a far cry from the ideal that justice not just be done but that it is seen to be done.
If the government intrudes on the judiciary and its processes then we may face a similar problem as the judicial system comes to be regarded as being unduly influenced by political motives. Already there is an apparent political bias in the Judicial Service Commission that is charged with overseeing judges in South Africa and is really meant to be a manifestation of the constitutional imperative that the independence of the judiciary be respected.
This is going to be a very interesting year. I just hope 2007 becomes the year we see a return to justice in our court system and a restoration of the public’s faith in our judicial system and not the year true degradation set in.