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
13 March 2008

Zuma’s troubling trip to Mauritius

While lawyers for African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma have denied their client discussed “litigation” during a meeting with Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam three weeks ago, Ramgoolam has told the Financial Times the matter did arise. According to allAfrica website Ramgoolam said:

I explained to him that we have an independent judiciary. We don’t intervene. The courts will have to decide.

The prime minister was responding to the newspaper about what his thoughts were on Zuma’s reported efforts to get Mauritius to bar South African authorities from getting evidence to be used in the corruption case against him. There is no reason to think that the prime minister would be lying about such an important matter, which means Mr Zuma did indeed raise the question with him and asked him to intervene.

If this is indeed the case, it is troubling beyond belief because it would suggest that Mr Zuma has no respect for the independence of the judiciary and for judicial processes of another country and has a shocking lack of understanding of how a criminal justice system should work.

By raising the issue with the prime minister and asking him to intervene, Mr Zuma would have reinforced the perception that he operates in a generally corrupt manner and thinks nothing of using and abusing his power to his own advantage. If he could have done this and could have thought it was acceptable to do this, surely he could just as easily have taken a bribe from a foreign arms company in return for a promise to protect them agains investigations by the various constitutional institutions tasked with investigating the arms deal?

Of late Mr Zuma has apologised for or “clarified” many really stupid statements he had made, but there has been a stony silence from his camp about the admission by the Mauritian prime minister. This seems to create an even stronger suspicion that the prime minister was being truthful and that Mr Zuma had tried to get him inaprpopriately to intervene in the judicial process.

I am surprised this is not a bigger story in South Africa, because, if true, it is a real scandal of the gravest sort and in and of itself disqualifies Mr Zuma to hold any public office. If he thinks he can do this kind of thing in a foreign country, what will he do once he gets his grubby little hands on the levers of state power in South Africa? He would make the charges of abuse of power against President Thabo Mbeki (never proven but widely suspected) look like childs play.

I would think that Mr Zuma should either deny the claim by the Mauritian Prime Minister – thereby calling him a liar – or he should step down as head of the ANC. The fact that Cosatu and the SACP is silent in the face of such flagrant attempts at abuse of power is shocking. They should be ashamed at themselves. But I guess they have painted themselves into a corner by hitching their wagon to a man who seems so ethically challenged and they now need to shut up. This is how the high and morally mighty falls in politics.

The fact that South African newspapers blithely reported on this as a small story on the inside pages of their papers is also telling. Have they become so blunted to the ethical corruption of Mr Zuma that they think it is not important, or do they think this is not a big deal. Al and all it seems like a shameful failure on the part of the press to hold the possible potential President of the country accountable for shockingly inappropriate behaviour that neatly exposes his corrupt nature.

Their failure to do so is perhaps a failure of their own ethical compass and when they next moan and complain about freedom of the press I will wonder why we have a free press if that free press is not doing its job properly.

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