Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
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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