Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Justice Minister Michael Masutha and other members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday grilled candidates on judgments reserved – some for as long as a year – while they were acting judges.

There was also a suggestion from Masutha that it was inappropriate for judges to be members of civil society organisations such as the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF).

He launched an attack on former Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler (without mentioning his name) for the cases his Freedom Under Law (FUL) had brought against the government.

The issue of outstanding or reserved judgments is considered to be of importance because it represents a form of justice denied. The Office of the Chief Justice has issued norms and standards for judges, stipulating that no judgment can be reserved for longer than three months without good reason.

On Wednesday morning, Mogoeng questioned Colleen Collis, a magistrate aspiring to become a judge, on the longest duration of any of her judgments when she was acting as a judge. She replied that there had been one of about three months.

Takalani Madima was also grilled over reserved judgments and was forced to admit that he had one that was outstanding for more than a year.

"This is a blot on my record and it won’t happen again," said Madima, an advocate who is now making his third attempt at joining the bench.

Commissioner CP Fourie asked advocate Selemeng Mokose about reserved judgments, particularly one that took seven months to hand down. Mokose said in reply to queries regarding other judgments reserved that they had all been handed down.

When arguably one of the best candidates for judicial appointment interviewed this week, David Unterhalter SC, began his interview, it was Masutha who asked him if he was a member of the HSF.

He replied that he was.

The HSF and FUL have been a thorn in the side of the government, having secured some crushing legal victories.

Masutha said some civil society organisations, such as the HSF, had taken the government all the way to the Constitutional Court and he asked Unterhalter how he could be objective if appointed a judge if similar matters were to come before him.

Unterhalter said that when appointed to the bench, there were many things that had to be left behind and insisted that his current membership of the HSF would not influence him. He said, in response to a question about the separation of powers, that there was tension between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature but that there was also mutual respect. He said the judiciary had been careful to demarcate the areas where the courts should not go.

Masutha also asked him about an unspecified retired judge who had become involved in an unspecified civil society organisation and whether or not this activity would taint his legacy. It was a clear reference to Kriegler and the FUL.

Unterhalter said even retired judges should be circumspect but stressed that there was a role for them in civil society.

The interviews continue on Thursday.

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