Chief justice move under fire

17 August 2011 - 02:29 By AMUKELANI CHAUKE
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The Constitutional Court. File photo.
The Constitutional Court. File photo.

Opposition parties and the legal fraternity have criticised President Jacob Zuma's nomination of Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice.

Zuma sent letters to the Judicial Service Commission and political parties in the National Assembly to start what he called the beginning of a consultation process in the appointment of former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo's successor.

Ngcobo's term ended on Sunday.

This comes less than a month after Ngcobo made an about-turn and decided not to go along with Zuma's plan to extend his term as the chief justice.

While the DA and Freedom Front Plus reserved their comment, the IFP and the United Democratic Movement attacked Zuma's move.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the nomination was "controversial, to say the least".

"The nominee seems to lack pertinent Constitutional Court experience," Holomisa said.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he was "taken by surprise" and it was expected that a more senior judge would have been afforded the opportunity.

"However, as it is clear that President Zuma has already made up his mind, and that the consultation process is a mere formality, it is a foregone conclusion that Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng will be appointed the next chief justice."

JSC spokesman Dumisa Ntsebeza said yesterday that in a letter addressed to his secretariat Zuma had said that he would "appreciate" if he could receive a response on the nomination by next Wednesday, given the urgency of the matter.

Ntsebeza said it was too soon to say what form the consultation process would take, but it was not a "one-way process" as the commission could, after consulting internally, either support the president's nomination or ask him to consider another candidate.

"I would say that it is possible that after the consultation process the JSC could go back to Zuma and ask him to consider another name."

But Ntsebeza said, according to section 174 (3) of the Constitution, the appointment of the chief justice rested with the president.

Zuma's nomination of former North West judge president Mogoeng, 50, took almost everybody by surprise.

A senior counsel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that Mogoeng, who became the youngest member of the Constitutional Court when he was appointed in 2009, was a "loner" on the bench and he was very reserved in his judgments.

"What concerns me the most is that the president bypassed a lot of senior people [like Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang] and nominated a judge with less experience," said the advocate.

His feelings were echoed by other senior legal counsel, who said that they were surprised at Zuma nominating Mogoeng over other experienced judges such as Judge Moseneke.

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