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.
The Cape Argus reported on Friday that Cape Judge President John Hlophe, who is on leave pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct against him, will be earning R1.4 m annually following the 11% increase for all judicial officers. The pay increase, which was gazetted last week, will be backdated to 1 April.
The tone of the report (not available online) suggests that this is a bad thing. I disagree.
Judges must be paid a decent salary to ensure their independence and impartiality and to ensure that high quality lawyers make themselves available for selection to the Bench. Over the past ten years the salaries of judges have actually decreased in real terms while the need to attract good lawyers to the Bench from designated groups have increased.
This is no excuse for the Oasis debacle, but perhaps the Judge President would never have gotten himself in such a terrible ethical fix if he had been paid a salary commensurate with his position.
For us ordinary folks who slave away for less money, this might sounds like a high salary, but it is a small price to pay to safeguard against corruption on the Bench and to ensure that the quality of those who apply for positions on the Bench do not decrease so fatally that justice will not be able to be done in any way.
While I am of the opinion (along with about half the members of the Judicial Services Commission) that Judge President Hlophe should have faced an impeachment hearing because of his unethical entaglment with the Oasis group, I do not begrudge judges relatively decent salaries.
I suppose the state must realise “you get what you pay for” and if the state fails to pay judges well the administration of justice will deteriorate even further and we will all be worse off. So, even though a few cents of my taxes are going to the salary of John Hlophe, I am paying it with a smile on my face.BACK TO TOP