Study weighs transformative effect of critical court rulings
The report comes against the backdrop of increasing friction between the executive and the judiciary on matters of governance
Landmark rulings on provision of antiretroviral treatment and evictions are among Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court judgments dealt with in a study of the socioeconomic influence of these courts.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha released the results of the study late last week. One of its main findings was on the distinction between executive authority and that of Parliament, he said. Masutha was at pains to emphasise that the study was not aimed at usurping the powers of the courts.
The release of the report comes against the backdrop of increasing friction between the executive and the judiciary on matters of governance. There has been growing resentment within the government about the courts, with accusations made of "judicial overreach" because of a series of judgments that have shown up the executive as being administratively inept.
The study was undertaken in 2013-15 by the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Fort Hare. Its aim was to assess the effects of decisions by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal in transforming society.
The report referred to "seminal court decisions handed down in the golden era of SA’s constitutional jurisprudence", which included cases such as the Treatment Action Campaign vs then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the Government of SA vs Irene Grootboom in the matter of evictions from land earmarked for low-cost housing.
"The discussion document gives reasons behind the assessment and its rationale," said Masutha.
"When the assessment was conceived, concerns were raised in corners; they were settled early on and we were allowed [to proceed]," said the minister.
Masutha said the study was recently presented to the Cabinet for feedback.
"The study’s relevance lies in the fact that it provides greater clarity of the executive [and] Parliament on each of the aspects that the courts have adjudication on and how far the responsibilities of the executive and Parliament go," he said.
Nadia Sanger of the council said: "The courts have made judgments that are uncomfortable for the executive. Dialogue has been taking place with civil society to ensure people were being given the treatment that they needed. Courts should play a more transformative role."