'No more salaries for life'
The stand-off between the judiciary and MPs worsened yesterday when a call was made for a review of the special remuneration regime that allows judges to earn their salaries for life.
Speaking during a meeting of an ad hoc committee drafting a code of conduct that would compel judges to declare their financial interests, the DA's Denis Joseph said it should be made clear that the judiciary was not untouchable.
"I think that it's important that we tell these judges [that there are] many other laws that we are changing, many of the systems that we are changing. The judges must also realise that this new parliament is going to deal with them in terms of fairness and equality [for] all people who work for the state," said Joseph.
Currently, only the President, the Deputy President, the Chief Justice, judges of the Constitutional Court and of the high courts are entitled to salaries for life.
Joseph's remarks followed a presentation by Johan de Lange, an official in the justice department, who briefed the committee about the rationale for the draft regulations, which would compel sitting and retired judges to declare income earned other than from their judicial work, and the business interests of their spouses and children.
But judges have repeatedly told parliament that they reject attempts to make them put their families' business affairs in the public domain, arguing that the requirement would be unconstitutional.
De Lange said it was crucial that all judges with outside earnings declare them because they benefit from the public purse for life in terms of the Judges' Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act of 2001.
He said such remuneration was unique to South Africa. "...We have not come across a system like this [anywhere else], this concept of a judge for life.''
Joseph said there was nothing to stop parliament reconsidering paying judges a salary for life.
"Nothing stops this parliament reviewing whatever is on the table and coming up with a new package ... I get the impression that the judges feel that, because there was such an agreement, it should not be touched, it should be for life."
De Lange said parliament would have to amend the constitution if it wanted to end the pay-for-life system because it protected the judges' benefits and allowances.
According to the latest report of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, judges in the high and labour courts earned annual salaries of R1.4-million.
Judge-presidents pocket R1.6-million a year.
Constitutional and Supreme Court judges get R1.7-million and the chief justice earns R2.3-million.
The package of the president of the Supreme Court is just over R2-million a year.
When they retire, judges are entitled to continue drawing their salary and other benefits, which continue to qualify for an annual increase.