Chief Justice has his work cut out

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pretoria - The country's newly appointed Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo has his work cut out for him, says Constitutional law expert Professor Shadrack Gutto.

Monday marked Ngcobo's first day in office as the country's top judge, after President Jacob Zuma appointed him to the position earlier this month.

"He is taking over the judiciary at a very challenging time and he will try to get his priorities straight while trying to restore credibility to our justice system," Gutto said.

He told BuaNews that among the first things Ngcobo will want to address is the issue of stability within the Constitutional Court following the fallout between the court's judges and Cape Judge President John Hlope.

The judges had accused Hlope of trying to improperly influence them in a matter related to President Zuma. The Judicial Service Commission has since found no compelling reasons to proceed with the matter.

Gutto said he did not believe the saga had undermined the credibility of the court or that of the country's judiciary.

"Look, what the new chief justice probably needs to do right now is to provide the kind of leadership that can finally reconcile the parties but it will take two to tango," commented Gutto.

He also believed Ngcobo would work well with his Deputy, Dikgang Moseneke. despite media speculation of the alleged tensions between the two. Zuma has expressed confidence that Ngcobo will receive all the necessary support from Moseneke.

On law issues, Gutto said Ngcobo had demonstrated a willingness to place a special focus on the country's indigenous laws. "He appears to be really serious about reviving indigenous law but beyond that there are many areas of law that will need his attention."

Among those pressing issues was that of transformation.

According to Gutto, it was unacceptable that 15 years into democracy there had never been a single woman Judge President in South Africa. The issue of gender balance and transformation in the judiciary was a "ticking time bomb" and needed to be addressed.

He pointed out that the deputy chief justice and all Judge Presidents were men. "That does not augur well for transformation and it will be one of the main areas where the chief justice will be judged," added Gutto.