Justice minister Ronald Lamola believes the Judicial Service Commission could tweak its code of conduct to protect the decorum, standing and dignity of its processes.
“Yes, I do agree that there could be a need to tweak the code of conduct,” he said while answering MPs’ questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday.
Lamola said that while there was already a protocol and rules of the JSC, and the constitution stipulated that fit and proper people must be appointed to the body, there was nothing wrong if the JSC itself engaged on what may be necessary to tweak the code of conduct.
DA MP Werner Horn had asked whether Lamola thought the JSC should adopt a code of conduct for its members which should include rules of engagement with members among themselves and with candidates.
Last month’s interviews of candidates for chief justice caused an outcry, particularly when Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo was subjected to a line of questioning about unsubstantiated “rumours” of sexual harassment, which were not put to him ahead of the interviews — as per the JSC’s long-held practice. Though the questions were eventually expunged, it was hours before this happened.
JSC commissioners were also criticised for asking “sexist” questions to Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya during her interview.
At some point during acting chief justice Raymond Zondo’s interview, Lamola and EFF leader Julius Malema were engaged in a shouting match which was a departure from how the commission conducts its processes.
Meanwhile, Lamola defended the process followed in recruiting SA’s next chief justice as clear and a matter of public record.
He said he had no discussions with the president in relation to the appointment of the chief justice.
He was answering a question from EFF MP Yoliswa Yako, who asked whether he had held discussions with President Cyril Ramaphosa about the process of appointing the chief justice and whether the discussions entailed the qualities of a suitable candidate for the position.
“The whole process is in the public eye; political parties are making their inputs, so that assertion is not only far fetched, it’s unscrupulous, it’s unfounded,” he said to Yako’s suggestion that there may be “judicial capture” in the process.
Ramaphosa was relying on the constitution and his publicly explained view that the JSC advising the president on the suitability of the candidates was in line with the constitution.
“What the current president has done is unprecedented, it has all the hallmarks of transparency which should be appreciated by all democracy-loving South Africans because it gives a platform for the people of this country to have a say in terms of who must become the chief justice,” he said.
Lamola said Ramaphosa shared his constitutional power with all South Africans by giving them an opportunity to make inputs.
“Therefore whoever is going to be appointed at the end of this whole process is an outcome of a process that all South Africans would have participated in,” he said.