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
3 December 2010

Random thoughts at an airport

I am sitting at the Frankfurt airport, waiting for the departure of my flight to Mexico City where I will attend a Congress of international constitutional lawyers. It’s a tough life but somebody got to do it, I guess.

Reading the London Guardian newspaper, which is filled with more revelations from US diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, including suggestions that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi runs his foreign policy towards Russia on the basis of personal corrupt business interests with Vladimir Putin, a few thoughts came to mind.

I was struck by the fact that the Guardian published these allegations without getting any comment from anyone in Italy or Russia. If this was South Africa and the allegations had dealt with our own President, some people would have attacked the newspapers for its “irresponsible” journalism and would have argued that this is exactly why one needs a Media Appeals Tribunal.

And even if someone in Russia or Italy would have lodged a complaint with the South African Press Ombudsman – under the present self-regulation system — the newspaper would probably have been found guilty and would probably have been ordered to place some correction. Paging through the Guardian just reminded me again at the utter absurdity of the debate that raged in South Africa about whether we needed a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) and how anti-democratic the proponents of a MAT all are.

In a democracy with a free press, politicians are not entitled to the same privacy and dignity than the rest of us. In any case, when one becomes a politician one already has very little dignity left. Just think of a man like Jeremy Cronin – who is a politician with a relatively high level of integrity — who got into so much trouble during the Thabo Mbeki era when he warned about the Zanufication of the ANC, but now that he is a Deputy Minister sounds more and more like a Minister in the Zanu-PF cabinet. Politics is a dirty business and if one has too many scruples one will probably not get very far.

A second thought that came to me while reading the Guardian is that even half of these allegations now emanating from the USA embassy cables are true, it would mean that many political leaders in many parts of the world are just as or even more corrupt than our own leaders in South Africa. This does not make it right, but it does put paid to the silly argument that anyone in S0uth Africa who expose corruption in the government or criticise politicians because of alleged corruption are racist, “Afro-pessimists” or in cahoots with what is sometimes quaintly called “liberals”.

The last time I checked, neither Berlusconi or Putin are black or from Africa. They are both from the bastion of “Western civilization” – Europe.

What ANC leaders should do is actually address the corruption, or to ensure that corruption is actually properly investigated and prosecuted. This is, of course, not easy to do when the President of the country escaped prosecution from corruption merely on the basis that he was going to become the President of the country.

If the ANC does not address corruption in their midst (which they are not going to do with sufficient vigour because in the short term too many people are benefiting) they will one day wake up and will realise they have no credibility left with the voters. And when the voters who still vote for them (many already having stopped voting at all) they will be out on their ear.

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