Ex church deacon quizzed on assisted suicide as he pitches to become judge

20 April 2021 - 07:46
By naledi shange AND Naledi Shange
Advocate Daniel Petrus de Villiers SC said he believed a terminally ill person should be given the right to decide on how to die.
Image: 123RF/EVGENYI LASTOCHKIN Advocate Daniel Petrus de Villiers SC said he believed a terminally ill person should be given the right to decide on how to die.

One of the candidates vying for the six vacant positions of judges in the Gauteng division of the High Court was on Monday drawn to voice his opinion on euthanasia.

Facing a tough interview session by the Judicial Services Commission, advocate Daniel Petrus de Villiers SC said he believed a terminally ill person should be given the right to decide on how to die.

“In principle, I agree that with the system that exists in Holland that in appropriate circumstances, a very ill person can take the position to end his or her life,” De Villiers said.

Leaning to the side of caution as the country currently has a pending court case on the matter, Villiers said: “As you grow older, you will get to know people who are terminally ill, are suffering from strokes and so forth. If it [the court case] comes before me, I will need to apply the evidence that is led in that court and I would need to apply the law.

“If that takes me to a position that is different from the one I have just expressed, then I will apply it undoubtedly. The higher value as a judge is that you must apply the law to the facts,” he said.

De Villiers is one of eight candidates being interviewed for the position.

The visibly nervous yet highly experienced advocate had his CV scrutinised by the commissioners, who also pointed out his involvement as a deacon in the Dutch Reformed Church during the height of apartheid in the 1980s.

De Villiers said though the church was strong in its views at the time, he was part a group of people who did not support apartheid and instead called for unity. He added that though not completely sold with the ideas that were held by the leadership of the church, “he felt at home” in the church, adding that it was an establishment that was rich with tradition.

If you look into my soul, you can find someone who seeks social cohesion
Advocate Daniel De Villiers SC 

De Villiers was asked about the lack of community work in his CV. He explained how though he was not part of any associations or groups, he has always been one to advance social cohesion — even from his university days when he rallied for black students to be allowed to share residences with their white counterparts.

He said he was always helpful to his colleagues of colour and stressed that he had an open-door policy when it came to them.

“If you look into my soul, you can find someone who seeks social cohesion,” he said.

So far, the commission has interviewed four of the eight candidates. The first in the hot seat on Monday was Adv Allyson Crutchfield SC who has had extensive experience as an acting judge in all divisions of the court.

'I try to bring empathy'

Asked about two outstanding judgments that she had, Crutchfield said these were complex matters and stressed that she shied away from following the practices of some judges.

“Some people hold the view that one should just deliver the judgment, whether it’s right or wrong — just deliver the judgment. I come from practice and I know what the cost of appeals are to the litigants and I try to weigh both. I do want to add to that my appeal rate appears to be very low,” said Crutchfield.

An interesting factor that Crutchfield chose to highlight in her CV was that she had two great uncles who had served as judges, adding that one — who did not necessarily support the apartheid system —  had been influential in her many years of study.

Adv Dali Mpofu, who sits on the panel of commissioners, responded to this disclosure, saying: “I don’t think you needed to disclose your apartheid-supporting ancestors.”

He added: “I don’t think people should be held individually accountable for what happened. There were more than 10 elections which excluded African people since 1958 and in all of them, white people by a far majority voted for apartheid. So you are not more guilty just because you had a relative [who presided in courts at the time].”

Mofu instead steered Crutchfield into sharing her difficulties of being white and female in the judiciary, highlighting that it took 27 years for her to be awarded her silk while one was usually considered for this after 12 years of service.

He further asked her about stereotypes that white female advocates were good for unopposed motions and divorce and matrimonial law cases.

Crutchfield responded that she believed black, Indian and coloured women had it worse but agreed that those stereotypes had existed in the bar back in the day.

She wept as she shared how during her first silk interview in 2013, she felt one of the panellists, who was one of her senior colleagues, doubted her capabilities because of the stereotype that existed.

Instead, she said, male juniors were preferred and given more complex briefs. She highlighted that 30 years later, women still faced these challenges. She stressed that the commission had the power to make a significant change in empowering women.

“I’ve stood in courts since I was 24. I have been overlooked by judges. I have been humiliated by judges and I know the terrible fear of being young, female and terrified. I see that fear in front of me when I sit on the bench. People have spoken about my empathy. I try to bring empathy to our young, female practitioners,” she said.

Among those also interviewed on Monday was Judge Nelisa Mali, a judge in the Mpumalanga high court division. She is seeking a transfer back to Gauteng, saying she had moved to Mpumalanga because of health reasons.

The former tax attorney said she believed she would add jurisprudence to the tax court.

The incumbent Gauteng judge president, Dustan Mlombo, highlighted that Mali had already made significant changes in the tax court.

“You also found that people who did not fit the description of the act to be tax court members were being imposed on judges and your intervention has resulted in all those non-qualifying being pruned from the system,” said Mlambo.

Mali took the commission into her confidence, even expressing the current loopholes in the tax system.

She was also quizzed about her time at the Mpumalanga courts and stressed that while the Mpumalanga division was still at the infancy stage, it was a “strong infant”.

“Most of the judges, few as they are, they come from the Gauteng division where we get cooked,” she replied.

The commission is set to continue with interviews for these positions on Tuesday.