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)
28 February 2007

Paparazzi part of open and democratic society

This morning The Mercury newspaper reports that the prosecutor who arranged the appearance of Justice Motata in chambers has defended his action.

“It was me who asked (the magistrate) if he would be kind enough to grant a postponement in chambers, which he graciously agreed to do…If people think there is something wrong with that, they need to come to me,’ former Gauteng Bar Council chairman Nazeer Cassim SC told The Mercury.

And the current head of the Gauteng Bar Council, Gerrit Pretorius SC, agreed, saying there was nothing extraordinary about Motata’s appearance. ‘I understand that the press are probably unhappy. But you can also imagine how it must be for a high-profile person to walk into a courtroom and be confronted by a sea of paparazzi, he said, adding that he was ‘not surprised’ that the judge’s legal team had elected to meet the magistrate in chambers.

This just goes to show that being an SC does not necessarily give one any understanding or insight into the basic requirements of living in a democracy. Of course, these learned SC’s are correct that no one who appears in a criminal matter would like to be confronted by the press – whether one is Dina Rodriguez, Mathias Mathe or Judge Motata.

The point is, though, that under the Rule of Law one cannot demand or expect special treatment from the criminal justice system just because one is a judge. Moreover, the press has a right and a duty to inform the electorate of the movements of important people like judges charged with drunken driving. How many poor black defendents without legal connections have ever managed to evade the press at a criminal trial appearance as Judge Motata did?

Probably zero.

In the kind of open and democratic society guaranteed in the Constitution, even judges must face the paparazzi. If they do not, they run the risk of appearing in contempt of democratic values.

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