Quote of the week

As seductive as certain perspectives of international law may appear to those who disagree with the outcome of the interpretative exercise conducted by this Court in the contempt judgment, sight must not be lost of the proper place of international law, especially in respect of an application for rescission. The approach that my Brother adopts may be apposite in the context of an appeal, where a court is enjoined to consider whether the court a quo erred in its interpretation of the law. Although it should be clear by now, I shall repeat it once more: this is not an appeal, for this Court’s orders are not appealable. I am deeply concerned that seeking to rely on articles of the ICCPR as a basis for rescission constitutes nothing more than sophistry.

Khampepe J
Zuma v Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 28 (17 September 2021)
11 January 2009

Judicial transformation and Justice Cameron

Last year Supreme Court of Appeal judge Carol Lewis created a storm when she seemed to suggest that racial transformation of the bench had led to a lowering of the quality of judgments issued by High Court judges. It was therefore interesting to see that newly appointed Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron made similar remarks in an interview in today’s Sunday Times:

“Judges, black and white, are troubled by some of the judgments we’ve seen coming from the high courts,” he says carefully, mindful of the fire storm his colleague, Judge Carole Lewis, triggered recently.

She criticised the quality of judges, suggesting that the problem arose when political connections and race took precedence over merit in appointments to the bench. Does Cameron agree?

“Let me phrase this carefully,” he says, sounding like he’d much rather be playing beach ball with the children whose shrieks of joy are loudly audible in the background. “I think that she rightly signalled a widely held concern.

“Being a judge is a tough job technically, a tough job emotionally, a tough job intellectually, and we need tough men and women who can do it.”

Why aren’t they being appointed?

“It’s the tension between racial and gender transformation and technical ability.”

Has transformation been pushed too quickly?

Long pause. “I’ve got to give you an answer with integrity that doesn’t dance between the egg shells …

“I think the goals aren’t incompatible,” he says after another pause. “But I think more attention has to be paid to the tough technical and personal capabilities required of a judge.”

After 1994, racial transformation was “an imperative. If the bench had remained overwhelmingly white after 1994 we would have had a political problem. Now we’ve got a technical output problem.”

Yet I suspect these comments will illicit far less unhappiness because Cameron makes clear that he thinks transformation and technical expertise on the bench are not incompatible. Unlike Lewis, whose remarks could have been interpreted as racist because it suggested that black lawyers were inherently incapable of mastering the kind of technical legal issues required to be a good judge, Cameron shows he is acutely aware of the racial politics in our country and signals this clearly in the interview.

Maybe demonstrates the difference between a garden variety white liberal on the one hand, and someone like Cameron on the other, who has done work for the National Union of Mine Workers and has a keen understanding of the racial injustices in our country.

Perhaps this kind of sensitivity is also strenghtened if one is an outsider – gay and HIV positive? It will be interesting indeed to see how Cameron deals with the difficult gender issues that the Court might be faced with: a clash between gender equality and polygamy, say! I suspect on these social justice issues Cameron will be closer to Sachs, O’Reagan and Mokgoro, than to Ncgobo and Skweyia – despite being quite a traditional black letter lawyer.

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