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Tue May 24 21:34:26 SAST 2016

Gauntlett omission: Suspicion of JSC's motives lingers

The Times Editorial | 19 November, 2012 00:04

The Times Editorial: If circumstances were different, Jeremy Gauntlett would be the envy of those legal colleagues who have aspirations to become a judge.

Over the past week, a number of noteworthy South Africans have added their names to the list of those who support the appointment of Gauntlett as a judge of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land.

Sir Sydney Kentridge, one of the first judges of the Constitutional Court, Max Price, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, DA leader Helen Zille and former Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane are among those who have written testimonials about Gauntlett's suitability.

But Gauntlett's fortune comes against the backdrop of four failed attempts for a seat on South Africa's senior courts.

His most recent attempt ended badly when he was told that, though the Judicial Service Commission admired his legal skills and knowledge, his temperament - said to be acerbic and short-tempered - had ruled him out of a seat on the Cape bench.

A deep suspicion remained that the JSC's decision had much to do with Gauntlett's questioning of Cape Judge President John Hlophe's leadership ability rather than with the senior counsel's supposedly tetchy disposition.

The JSC has, over the years, been criticised by the legal fraternity for its perceived political bias and the tough questioning to which it often subjects white candidates.

Geoff Budlender, widely thought to be one of South Africa's foremost legal minds, has also been repeatedly overlooked to fill vacancies in the senior courts, including the Constitutional Court.

Whether the impressive array of testimonials will help Gauntlett will be evident only once the JSC announces the candidates it wants to interview.

What is very clear is that the commissioners of the JSC have much to consider - particularly how they arrive at the chosen few who ascend to our highest courts.


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