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Judgment expected soon in Constitutional Court case concerning legality of extension of Chief Justice’s term of office

On 18 July 2011, the Constitutional Court heard argument in the matter concerning the President’s recent extension of the Chief Justice’s term of office (set to expire at midnight on 14 August 2011).  As set out in our last newsletter, SECTION27 acted on behalf of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), which was admitted as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”).

The case arose when President Zuma extended the term of office of the Chief Justice in accordance with section 8(a) of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act 47 of 2001 (“the Judges’ Act”).

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies together with the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Freedom Under Law and the Justice Alliance of South Africa all took issue with section 8(a) and the President’s conduct; they argued that the provision does not comply with the Constitution, in large part because it undermines the independence of the judiciary.

NADEL made submissions to the Court on remedy alone.  Put differently, NADEL was concerned with what would happen if the Constitutional Court found that section 8(a) of the Judges’ Act is unconstitutional and therefore invalid.

Together with SECTION27’s Adila Hassim, George Bizos SC argued on behalf of NADEL in support of a suspension of invalidity to allow Parliament to remedy the problem and other remedies available to the Court; the suspension to apply in the event the Court handed down judgment on or before 14 August 2011, with other remedies to be considered in the event that a final decision of the Court is not made before the Chief Justice’s term expires.

For more details about the arguments made in Court, see a SAPA article available here and a Business Day article here.

For the heads of argument of all the parties, see cases 53/11, 54/11 and 62/11 under the “Recent Hearings” section of the Constitutional Court website (here).

During the hearing the Deputy Chief Justice said that the Constitutional Court would endeavour to hand down its judgment by the end of July 2011.  Today, the Minister of Justice announced that the Chief Justice had withdrawn his acceptance of the extension and that the President will immediately initiate the process to appoint a new chief justice by 15 August 2011.

Press summary of judgment (click here to view document)

Official judgment (click here to view document)