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ConCourt candidate won’t identify ‘darlings of the judiciary’ who allegedly bully juniors

13 April 2021 - 13:56 By Tania Broughton
Judge Rammaka Mathopo declined to “name and shame” the judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal who allegedly bully junior judges. Stock photo.
Judge Rammaka Mathopo declined to “name and shame” the judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal who allegedly bully junior judges. Stock photo.

Judge Rammaka Mathopo declined to “name and shame” the so-called “top six” judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) who allegedly bully junior judges and create a “toxic situation” at the court.

This in spite of prodding by chief justice Moegeng Moegeng, who questioned why the judges had never been named or the issue raised in the media.

Mathopo responded that they are “the darlings”, “people of a particular colour”. 

He said he had never been personally affected by their “judicial intolerance” and unpleasantness.

The chief justice pressed him again for names: “Who are the personalities? I don’t want it to look like the judiciary is covering up. I want to know who is making the lives of other judges uncomfortable.”

Mathopo replied: “The complainants have not taken up the courage to say, ‘This judge is the one who has violated me.’ What I would be saying would be what I heard.”

The exchange occurred during his interview before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which is considering candidates for two positions in the Constitutional Court.

“I witnessed and I heard and it was painful when colleagues were subjected to unfair criticism, unfair treatment, by senior colleagues,” Mathopo said, adding he often confronted the wrongdoer about their “despicable behaviour”.

“I did not care whether or not they liked me,” he said.

Several commissioners also took up the matter, with IFP MP Narend Singh asking if there should be a proper inquiry into the issue.

Mathopo said it would probably do no good. He said some “personalities” had not responded to sensitivity training and some had even boycotted it. He said within a few years, two of the judges would be “gone” and the “spirit exorcised”.

He said there was an emerging new “top six” who had “learnt from the old one not to do what they did to others”.

He said he had been acting in the ConCourt for almost two years and had kept tabs on the situation and had been informed things were better although there were still isolated incidents.

He said the ConCourt was different. “We don’t have seniority and everyone is equal. The top six doesn’t exist. It's a comfortable space to stretch one’s leg and write [judgments].”

Mathopo said he believed the SCA should operate in a similar way and not with a top-down approach in which senior judges referred to juniors as “their scribes”.

He presented himself as a “versatile lawyer” with a passion for mentoring and training, particularly women.

In response to a question, he said it was a travesty that women were still relegated as second-class citizens.

“On the bench, women bring something different. They are able to sit back, listen and afford litigants a proper hearing. If you have justice [Mandisa] Maya [SCA president] presiding, you know the hearing will be filled with warmth, deference and respect to counsel.”

SCA deputy judge president Xola Petse questioned Mathopo about the racial composition of the Constitutional Court, which presently has no white or Indian judges, male or female.

“Do you think the JSC would be advancing the dictates of the constitution if it were to recommend you [for a post], given the candidates we have at our disposal offer an ideal opportunity to rectify this?”

Mathopo replied it would be wrong to look at appointments in terms of skin pigmentation. The criteria should be if they are fit and proper and what they can bring to the court.

“The reality is that for 25 years we never had a judge of coloured descent. It was never raised because the JSC was not looking at colour.”

The interviews are continuing.