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WATCH | Maya gets JSC nod for deputy chief justice

Supreme Court of Appeal president tells the JSC administrative challenges at the appeal court are a perennial problem

20 June 2022 - 17:14 By FRANNY RABKIN
Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya. The Judicial Service Commission has endorsed her for deputy chief justice after an interview on Monday.
Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya. The Judicial Service Commission has endorsed her for deputy chief justice after an interview on Monday.
Image: Alon Skuy

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Monday endorsed Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya for deputy chief justice.

The JSC deliberated on the matter and “advised the president that president Maya is suitable for appointment as deputy chief justice of the Republic of SA,” said JSC spokesperson Doris Tshepe. It was a majority decision.

Maya was nominated for deputy chief justice by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March after a gruelling round of interviews for chief justice in February at which Maya was recommended by the JSC, but then acting chief justice Raymond Zondo got the nod from the president.

On Monday Maya was the only candidate and the interview was much less dramatic, though Maya faced a few hard questions, including about “shortcomings” in administration at the SCA.

The questions came after reports that in two matters — both related to former president Jacob Zuma — there had been clerical lapses at the appeal court's registrars office.

A request for an expedited hearing date in December of Zuma's medical parole appeal had gone awry because of email errors. Then, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court was informed on May 17 that an application by Zuma to Maya to reconsider a failed application for leave to appeal — filed in April — was still “on its way” to Maya's chambers.

Maya told the JSC that while she accepted “the buck stops with the head of the Supreme Court of Appeal”, lapses in the SCA's administration were a “perennial problem” and she laid the blame “at the door of the office of the chief justice”.

In a statement in May the office of the chief justice (OCJ) said: “The OCJ, as the administrative support to the judiciary, has identified the challenges relating to these matters and is addressing inadequacies in control measures and processes within the general office. The OCJ has assured president Maya that they will take the necessary corrective measures to address the failures of its support staff.”

Maya told the JSC that some years ago, when the SCA was hearing cases related to the former acting national director of public prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, then head of the NPA’s specialised commercial crime unit, it had transpired long after the hearing that “Mr Mrwebi was not actually represented in court. The reason was simply that he had not been furnished with a notice of set down by the registrar.”

She was looking forward to a meeting about it. It was a bigger issue the OCJ was aware of.

She and the other appeal court judges had done what they could, putting processes in place to make the court work.

But “I cannot be a registrar and go and sit there and make sure that a person who has requested an expedited hearing has had his request sent to my chambers”.

Later she said: “I can't leave my desk to go and check that DPP [deputy of public prosecutions Billy] Downer in KwaZulu-Natal has sent process in April and it's only brought to my chambers on May 17. I don't have that capacity.”

There were “literally thousands” of processes going through the SCA every day. “And people are employed to attend to it ... They must do their work, that they are paid for. And we will do ours.”

Maya was also asked by commissioner Glynnis Breytenbach about her decision to recuse herself when the JSC had to decide whether Western Cape judge president John Hlophe was guilty of gross misconduct.

She was not friends with Hlophe, but she had known him for a long time and he had been there for her in a difficult time in her life. She said perhaps she had been “overly cautious”.

But as a judge for 22 years who had never recused herself from any case “my sense was that the proper thing was not to sit”.

Asked by Breytenbach whether she felt she would not be able to exercise an independent mind on Hlophe, Maya said she would, but the test was also about perceptions.

“If you know I've been eating dinners at a colleague's house and the next thing I am sitting in their case, what are you going to think? What will come to your mind? And that is my concern,” said Maya.

Asked for an update on the JSC's decision on whether it would be recommending suspension for Hlophe after its court victory when Hlophe sought to challenge the JSC's finding of gross misconduct, Tshepe said that was “in process”.

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