Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS
Madam Speaker say what? Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS

Accusations by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete that some judges were biased were deeply concerning and could hurt the country's constitutional democracy, the Office of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said yesterday.

Mogoeng's office was responding to comments by Mbete, who is also ANC national chairman, during an interview with The Times in which she accused "some judges" of taking sides against ANC litigants in court cases involving them.

Although Mbete has previously commented on judicial "overreach", this is the first time she has directly accused "some judges" of being prejudiced against the ANC.

Mbete said she had raised similar concerns during a meeting attended by her National Council of Provinces counterpart Thandi Modise, President Jacob Zuma and Mogoeng in Cape Town at the end of 2015. The four met as leaders of the three arms of the state - parliament, the judiciary and executive.

She said "one grave matter of concern" she spoke about at the meeting was that there were "signs that there are [judges] who are so politicised in the way they do their work".

"When there is a case that affects someone from the ANC, those cases would find their way [into the courts] and if they end up in the hands of certain specific judges, forget it, you are going to lose that case. It has nothing to do with merit, correctness or wrongness. Some names pop up in the head already," she said without naming the judges or the cases concerned.

Mogoeng's spokesman, Nathi Mncube, said Mogoeng always reminded himself and heads of courts to act in line with the dictates of their affirmation and oath of office to deliver justice to all.

"The Chief Justice is deeply concerned about apparently baseless perceptions or overly-generalised complaints against the judiciary and individual judges in particular," he said.

"When a single judge has given a single judgment with which some leaders disagree, the predictable and often unsubstantiated reaction tends to be that the judiciary is overreaching or biased."

Zuma and parliament have lost a string of cases to the opposition over the past three years, leading to claims in ANC ranks that the courts were encroaching into the political domain.

Baleka Mbete. Picture: SUPPLIED
unhappy Baleka Mbete. Picture: SUPPLIED

Mbete said some of the disputes that ended up in the courts were "ridiculous because they are such mundane issues that are clearly and very obviously matters of detail of internal arrangements, which, in fact, ought to lie in the domain of the legislature".

Although she was not opposed to the idea of the opposition taking parliament to court, she said she did not understand why "they seem to have a lot of confidence" that they would win in court what they lose in the political process.

It was also mentioned at the ANC policy conference last week that there was a need to regulate the relationship between the three arms of the state "so each can respect its role and independence without overreach".

Mncube said the accusation of bias in cases involving the ANC was "very serious".

"What the speaker, with the benefit of legal advice, ought to have done was to either lodge an appeal in every case where bias or an injustice is believed to have been committed or lodge a complaint with the [Judicial Service Commission] against the particular judges she believes are anti-ANC.

"The Chief Justice is not supposed to be the one to do it. There are constitutional and statutory mechanisms open to any aggrieved litigant.

"But, the Chief Justice wants to assure all South Africans and all litigants that the judiciary will continue to administer justice to all alike without any fear, favour or prejudice and only according to the constitution and the law.''

Mbete said she expected Zuma to convene another meeting of the leaders of the three arms of state before he leaves office, and hoped more judges would attend.

- The Times

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