Sharika Regchand
News Editor
4 minute read
20 May 2021
07:20

Judges’ interviews slammed by 82 KZN advocates

Sharika Regchand

Eighty two members of the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Advocates have criticised the way KZN judges Piet Koen and Dhaya Pillay were treated at the Judicial Service Commission interviews.

Eighty two members of the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Advocates have criticised the way KZN judges Piet Koen and Dhaya Pillay were treated at the Judicial Service Commission interviews.

A statement was issued on Wednesday by the advocates in their individual capacities and not by or on behalf of the Bar Council.

The advocates said they note with “disquiet the treatment of both Judge Pillay and Judge Koen” during the interviews that were held last month.

They make reference to an opinion piece by Judith February, which appeared in Eyewitness News (EWN) and also another opinion piece by Professor Balthazar in the Daily Maverick. The advocates provided the links to both pieces in their statement.

During the interviews, which were widely reported about in the media, EFF leader Julius Malema questioned Judge Pillay about her friendship with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Malema, who was a member of the JSC representing his party, made various claims about Pillay, saying she was “part of Gordhan’s faction” and “nothing but a political activist”.

Malema asked her if she thinks it enhances the good image of the judiciary to have judges befriending politicians. Pillay said that Gordhan was someone she had “known for a long time” and they were both “activists from Durban”.

“My association with him has never affected my work and will not, going forward. I have made judgments against the Treasury and against Sars and it has never been a problem,” she said.

Pillay, who has served on the Labour Court and has acted in the Supreme Court of Appeal, was vying for one of two positions in the Constitutional Court.

After the grilling session, she did not make the cut.

During Judge Koen’s interview the chief justice lashed out at him for being “rude and discourteous” to him at a meeting to discuss cost-cutting measures in the judiciary in 2016.

Koen explained that at that time there had been grumblings among judges about the cost cutting, which involved being limited to R900 000 for new cars, cutting back on travel and subsistence allowances, and not being able to take spouses on circuit.

He said while these issues did not affect him personally, some judges believed that it was infringing on their rights, laid out in the constitution, that judge’s salaries and other benefits may not be reduced.

While heads of court had agreed to “voluntary” cost cutting, it appeared that the office of the chief justice was enforcing it and this led to the meeting.

Koen said that while the contents of what he said was not intended to be rude, he apologised.

“But perception is important — and if it was construed as such, I am very saddened and I apologise unreservedly.”

The chief justice had accepted the apology.

The advocates said in the statement that Judge Pillay was treated in an unfortunate matter. They described her as being robust and independent.

“We write as practitioners who practice in these courts every day. While we were not party to the meeting that gave rise to the accusation that Judge Koen is ‘rude and discourteous’, what we can readily say is that in our combined experience, Judge Koen is the opposite of rude, and is courteous to all who appear before him, including litigants.

“We say that in answer to the apparently rhetorical question posed as to whether litigants and practitioners who appear before Judge Koen are treated decorously and judiciously.”

The statement ends saying it is “advanced out of a concern that, on account of the JSC interviews of Judge Koen and Judge Pillay, the public may perceive that the two judges are somehow not worthy of their judicial positions. We think we have a duty to correct any such perceptions because, in our experience of appearing in court before the two judges, there is no foundation for them”.

The surnames of 16 advocates are mentioned in the statement as being among the 82 members who issued the statement. They are De Wet SC; Dickson SC, Gabriel SC, Gajoo SC, Hunt SC, Jeffreys SC, Mcintosh SC, Phillips SC, Pillemer SC, Bond, Collingwood, Ender, Lalla, Law, Ploos Van Amstel and Qono-Reddy.

Judge President Achmat Jappie was unavailable to comment.

Judges named in statement:

The surnames of 16 advocates are mentioned in the statement as being among the 82 members who issued the statement. They are De Wet SC; Dickson SC, Gabriel SC, Gajoo SC, Hunt SC, Jeffreys SC, Mcintosh SC, Phillips SC, Pillemer SC, Bond, Collingwood, Ender, Lalla, Law, Ploos Van Amstel and Qono-Reddy.