Citizen Reporter
3 minute read
6 Feb 2022
11:59 am

Legal action mulled against ‘tainted’ interview process for Chief Justice post

Citizen Reporter

The Helen Suzman Foundation labelled the interview process for the position of Chief Justice "tainted" and "irrational".

President of Supreme Court of Appeal Mandisa Maya during her interview for South Africa's next Chief Justice at Park Hotel, Sandton, on 2 February 2022. Photo: Gallo Images/Daily Maverick/Felix Dlangamandla

The recommendation of Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) President Mandisa Maya for the position of Chief Justice could face a hurdle after some civil society organisations said the interviews were not fair.

On Saturday evening, advocate Dali Mpofu announced that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will recommend Maya for the post.

Maya was shortlisted by President Cyril Ramaphosa for the top judicial position, along with Constitutional Court (ConCourt) Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga, Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo.

The JSC, however, was criticised over the line of questioning by some of its members during this week’s interviews.

Some of the criticism levelled against the JSC stemmed from the unsubstantiated questions advocate Dali Mpofu and EFF leader Julius Malema posed to Mlambo on Thursday around “rumours” of sexual harassment. The questions were later expunged when the chair ruled they were unfair.

Paul Hoffman, the director of Accountability Now, had also told The Citizen that he believed Maya’s interview had been “unnecessarily polluted by the comments made because she is a woman”.

During her interview, Maya was asked why she, as a woman, would be a suitable appointment. She responded that she was good “not simply because I am a woman. I’m just a good woman judge”.

ALSO READ: ‘I’m not here simply because I’m a woman’: Judge Maya defends her standing for Chief Justice

Legal experts are now saying these lines of questions did not provide a fair chance for the four Chief Justice candidates.

According to the Sunday Times, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) is speaking to other NGOs about legal action to challenge the interviews, which it labelled “tainted” and “irrational”.

“Many in South Africa will want to applaud the possible appointment of our first female chief justice. But the recommendation of justice Maya as a result of a tainted, irrational, degraded process is no victory at all,” said HSF executive director Nicole Fritz.

“Far from suggesting that women might take the helm of the judiciary on the basis of merit and their own intrinsic worth, it perversely suggests that they can only do so as a result of a corrupted, debased process.”

ALSO READ: JSC under fire for politicised interview of the next Chief Justice

Professor Helen Kruuse of Rhodes University also reportedly objected to the way the interviews were conducted. 

“I am particularly concerned with the sexist nature of questions posed to President Maya and the unsubstantiated sexual harassment questions posed to Judge President Mlambo. While I believe the sexual harassment questions were expunged from the record, I believe the damage has already been done,” said Kruuse.

She recommended that the interviews be held again, with the JSC commissioners being told to treat the candidates fairly, and with the implicated commissioners possibly stepping down.

Kruuse said if this did not happen, “the commission’s work could be set aside by a court of law”.

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