Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
25 April 2008

Ginwala enquiry dead in the water?

Just after pressing the “publish” button on the previous post on Vusi Pikoli, I received the insightful submission by the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC) invited by the Ginwala Enquiry which seems to suggest Frene Ginwala will have a really hard time to get rid of Mr Pikoli if she is prepared to follow the law and the Constitution.

The submission makes the interesting point that while the NPA Act allows for the National Director to be removed on four different grounds, the terms of reference of the Ginwala Enquiry makes it clear that she could only recommend his removal on one of these grounds – namely whether Mr Pikoli was a “fit and proper person”.

It also makes clear that given the constitutional guarantee of independence, the NPA Head could not be removed because of a difference of opinion between him and the Minister of Justice about individual decisions to prosecute, not prosecute or strike plea bargains. The government case apparently relies heavily on the issue of plea bargains, arguing that Mr Pikoli had improperly struck plea bargains without taking into account the public interest or the national security interest of the Republic.

The SAIFAC submission makes clear that the power how to exercise the plea bargain power is vested in the National Director and not in the Minister or the President. Money Qoute:

The President may well disagree with a specific decision [to strike a plea bargain]. He may feel that a particular accused should have been prosecuted or that a different accused should not have been. But the President’s opinion is irrelevant because the discretion to prosecute, bargain or offer immunity vested entirely in the NPA. The only way the President’s concern might justify dismissing Mr Pikoli would be if it is supported by facts that indicate that Mr Pikoli, in deciding whom and on what terms to plea bargain, acted unconscientiously or without integrity and so rendered him no longer “fit and proper” to serve as NDPP.

This is an extremely difficult threshold to meet. If Ginwala agrees with this interpretation it would be difficult to see how – on the facts available to us now – Mr Pikoli could be dismissed. Of course, the government might have explosive evidence at its disposal and this might change the picture, but as things stands it is difficult to see how Pikoli does not win this case – either before Ginwala or on review before a court.

Which suggests another question: if there was such a flimsy legal basis for the suspension of Pikoli, why did the President nevertheless go ahead with the suspension? Was he badly advised by his lawyers? Was he trying to protect Jackie Selebi at any cost? Or – more intriguing – was he playing some Machiavellian pre-Polokwane game by suspending Pikoli so unpopular with the Zuma faction in an attempt to garner some support for his re-election bid?

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