Port Elizabeth - Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng says a transformed judiciary is crucial for the stability of South Africa's constitutional democracy.
He was delivering an address at the South African chapter of the International Association of Women Judges Conference currently being held at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
The South African public continued to have confidence in the judiciary, Mogoeng said, but transformation to make justice accessible to all, particularly women, remained critical to maintain that confidence.
He called on judges to ensure that the judiciary in South Africa performed as well as the Constitution promises, where people are treated fairly.
"As we gather here ... as leaders, we've got to identify challenges that undermine the performance [and leadership] of the judiciary..." Mogoeng said.
He used his speech to call on women judges to use their positions to advance the rights of women and to protect and empower women throughout the world. He said through "pioneering" judicial education programmes and worldwide collaboration, they could work towards advancing human rights and the elimination of gender based discrimination.
"Through your influence, you can make courts accessible to all and this should be supported by all of us involved in the justice system."
Mogoeng said striving for an inclusive and representative judiciary was a matter that "has been haunting" the leadership of judiciary in South Africa for many years. He recalled the days when the judiciary was referred to by Members of Parliament as the "boys choir" when a procession entered Parliament.
"As a result of that, we had to ensure that even if there were no women in the leadership of the judiciary but during the procession, we had to have women in our midst so we are not called a boys choir," Mogoeng said.
He said organisations like the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) had a critical role to play in ending perceptions that women could not handle critical cases.
The Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, is expected to address the conference later on Friday as part of nationwide Women's Month celebrations.
Earlier, different speakers raised concerns about what they described as a threat to the institutional independence of the judiciary, lack of confidence in the judiciary by members of the public and the attacks of judgement by politicians.
"Despite all our challenges, the judiciary still has a responsibility to make the public regain the confidence in the system," said Eastern Cape Judge President Temba Sangoni.
He said the bench was eager to have more women "as they could do well in transforming the system".
"So we must do all that we can to push this transformation agenda in all areas starting with gender and race."
IAWJ President Eusebia Munuo emphasised the promotion of judicial ethics, saying people who come to courts should not be exposed to misdemeanours by members of the bench.
"Our conduct should be beyond reproach," Munuo said.
She said women judges had an important role to play in society, adding that in her country, Tanzania, more young females saw law as a career of choice.