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
27 February 2007

Motata a chance….

News24 reports that Justice department officials were unable to explain on Tuesday why a Pretoria judge appeared in a magistrate’s chambers, instead of an open court, in connection with a drunken-driving incident. On Tuesday, High Court Judge Nkola Motata appeared briefly in the magistrate’s chambers in Hillbrow courts. Magistrate Herman Visser said the senior prosecutor had asked that Motata appear in chambers.

We all know, of course, why Judge Motata appeared in chambers – it’s because he is more important than us and thus above the normal legal process to which especially poor people are subjected. If the senior prosecutor in this case is not disciplined by the Department of Justice for this scandalous actions, a great big stink should be made by all and sundry. If the Rule of Law (such as it might be) means anything, it means that no one is above the law and that all people – even judges – must be treated according to the same rules.

But because Judge Motata is a judge he was clearly given special treatment. This undermines respect for the law amongst ordinary people and ultimately undermines respect for our precious democracy. The fact that the prosecutor thought this was appropriate is particularly worrying seeing that he or she is supposed to be at the forefront of enforcing the law.

But then again, in a country where the previous Director of Public Prosecutions made a decision not to pursue a criminal case against Jacob Zuma because of his position as Deputy President of the country and the ANC, it is no wonder that lowly prosecutor thinks that high-ups should get special treatment.

The fact that Judge Motata played along in this disgraceful charade is just another black mark against his name. He, of all people – sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law – should know that no one deserves special treatment before the law and that in his position he has a responsibility to face the music in open court.

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