Judges express mixed feelings about acting stint at SCA

09 April 2018 - 17:21 By Ernest Mabuza
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

Judges who were being interviewed for three positions at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) expressed mixed feelings about their experiences while acting at that court.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Monday interviewed four of the nine shortlisted candidates.

KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge Trevor Gorven said he was made to feel at home immediately when he acted at the SCA and other judges gave him support and assistance.

However‚ Western Cape High Court Judge Elizabeth Baartman said there was an impression that acting judges at the SCA were treated like they did not know what they were doing‚ even though they were already experienced judges in the high court.

She said of all the judgments she had written in the high court since she was appointed in 2009‚ only three judgments had been “interfered with” on appeal.

Pretoria High Court Judge Tati Makgoka described his stint at the SCA last year as complex.

Makgoka said he was welcomed by some colleagues while certain colleagues were cold towards him.

He said there was presumed intellectual superiority by some at the SCA and this was not based on race.

Makgoka said what he found strange was that senior judges were in one wing of the SCA buildings while the junior and acting judges were in another wing.

“I thought there should be a cross-breed where interaction might take place more efficiently. That struck me that senior judges this side‚ junior judges this side‚” Makgoka said.

SCA president Mandisa Maya explained to Makgoka that senior judges fled to the new wing whose chambers have bathrooms and the junior judges found themselves in the old wing with no bathrooms.

Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Thokozile Mbatha said although she had acted for a year at the SCA last year and seen an improvement in her work‚ there had been times when she had been criticised.

She said she was once threatened that the judgment she was assigned to write would be given to another judge.

“I found colleagues that were very much keen to help and very much keen to assist. The majority was helpful‚ which made it much easier for me to adapt‚” Mbatha said.

She also said at the SCA‚ it was important that everyone should feel accepted as an acting judge.

“They should not decide who should be invited. In simple terms‚ I felt there was some kind of gate-keeping process‚” Mbatha said.

Questions were asked of Gorven and Makgoka on their feelings if they were not appointed to make way for female candidates.

Maya asked Makgoka what he would advise the JSC if three female candidates were recommended for appointment and he was not recommended.

Maya said the SCA was notorious for low representation of women.

“There is an acute shortage of women at SCA‚ in particular African women. If I have to step back for an African woman to be appointed‚ I would be prepared (to)‚” Makgoka said.

Gorven said he believed that as a male‚ he could make a contribution to the court by increasing expertise.

The interviews continue on Tuesday.

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