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
21 September 2008

The President speaks….

President Thabo Mbeki’s speech to the nation tonight was both dignified and Presidential. But as is often the case with his Presidential speeches he did not really say anything new or earth shattering.

However, in an oblique way the speech seemed to reply to his critics and offer a defense of his tenure as President. For me it was telling that the President said that “all our citizens must respect the Rule of Law and Human Rights”. The President also spoke about the need for moral regeneration and the need to respect the value system of ubuntu which means “we must all act in the manner that respect the dignity of every human being”.

This seems like a very vague kind of criticism of Jacob Zuma and some of his supporters and perhaps it expresses – indirectly at least – a view that President Mbeki was not treated fairly by the ANC. It is of course ironic that this was exactly the complaint lodged by Jacob Zuma and his supporters after he was fired by Mbeki and charged by the NPA.

This kind of argument seems to me misplaced and not in line with the principles of openness and accountability. As the Constitutional Court has said before, when a person is accused of wrongdoing his or her dignity will inevitably be affected. No one has a right not to be accused so to argue that everyone must always be treated with dignity can be viewed as a plea for impunity.

When he spoke about the Nicholson judgment it is striking that he prefaced his remarks with the statement that his government has always respected and defended the independence of the judiciary.- even when the executive had strong views about cases.

He also denied that he or the executive had ever interfered with or compromised the rights of the NPA to decide who to prosecute or not to prosecute and categorically stated that this also applied to the “painful matter” of the prosecution of Jacob Zuma. I wonder what the Zuma people will say about that.

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