My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
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.