Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.
The problem is, of course, that the JSC is hopelessly divided on this matter. The Hansie Cronje effect has come in to play, so some members of the JSC will probably be loyal to Justice Hlope even if he admits that he only gave permission for Justife Desai to be sued because he received money from the Oasis group.
There is an urgent need for the Minister of Justice – or somebody at the Ministery who actually does anything – to finalise the Bill that will set up a system to deal with disciplinary matters against judges. What is required is the establishment of a sub-committee of the JSC, composed at the very least, of a majority of senior judges and chaired by the Chief Justice, to look into allegations of conflicts of interest and corruption against judges.
It would be untenable for such a committee to be controlled by civillians with overt political agendas. The indepenence of the judiciary requires that judges should be in control of their own disciplinary process. But one or two civillians could be added to ensure that the body does not become a toothless club protecting colleagues who should be brought to book.
This sub-committee should deal with judges on the basis of a code of conduct setting out what is required of a judge in terms of ethics and behaviour and should allow for reccommendations that range from suspension and docking of pay to full impeachment.