JSC recommends advocate Ilse van Rhyn to fill Free State high court vacancy
On Thursday, Ilse van Rhyn was recommended by the Judicial Service Commission for appointment to the Free State Division of the High Court.
During its third day of interviewing candidates for positions in the judiciary, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Thursday announced that it would advise President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint Ilse van Rhyn to fill a vacancy in the Free State Division of the High Court.
Ilse van Rhyn
Ilse van Rhyn joined the bar in 1993 and in 1999 she resigned, because of finances.
“We had to pay monthly fees to the bar. I then went to an independent bar where I paid a minimal fee. I then practised from home for about 11 years, which meant that I didn’t have to pay for an office,” said Van Rhyn.
She has presided over cases of medical negligence, Road Accident Fund matters and criminal law, but, she said, very few constitutional law cases.
Mamiki Qabathe, the Free State MEC for Social Development, asked Van Rhyn to comment on complaints that cases take too long to conclude, which often discourages victims.
Van Rhyn said there were a number of factors to take into consideration. “There is pressure on judges to finalise matters. I also felt it to finalise matters handed to me. It isn’t pressure I couldn’t handle, because that is our duty. But there are different considerations at stake; we don’t only have to consider the victims of crime. We also have to also consider the rights and privileges of the accused.”
Commissioner Jennifer Cane noted that Van Rhyn’s colleagues had said that she was often “thoroughly prepared” for cases and engaged well with counsel.
Qabathe asked Josephus Hefer whether enough was being done about gender equity in the judiciary.
“The question of transformation with regard to gender is an ongoing process. In the Free State division there has been a vast improvement in terms of transformation,” said Hefer.
Commissioner Kameshni Pillay said that according to Advocates for Transformation, which she represents at the JSC, there were no black women senior counsel, one black man who was a senior counsel and one black woman with five to 10 years’ experience at the Free State bar.
Commenting on this, Hefer said he didn’t think that attorneys in the Free State had “enough confidence” in black women. “Many of them then don’t know where to go and often don’t last more than five years,” said Hefer.
It seemed “very few women survived at the [Free State] bar,” said Pillay, who then asked what role Hefer was playing to ensure that black women didn’t leave. Hefer said that he involved junior colleagues who were black women as much as possible in his work.
As to how many black women Hefer, who has been practising for 31 years, has had to assist him with trials and applications, Hefer said there had only been two.
He explained that the more senior one was, the fewer pupils he or she was allocated.
The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) said that Hefer hadn’t acted for long enough as a judge and that he needed more time to do so. The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) said that Hefer lacked adequate knowledge of constitutional and labour law.
“I wouldn’t have applied if I wasn’t confident that I’m up to do the job. In any field, it’s recommended that you have as much experience as possible. Judges will come across matters they’re not familiar with. In the Free State, there are not a lot of constitutional matters, but I can learn,” said Hefer.
When it came to Cathy Page’s candidature, Nadel and the LSSA said they did not support it because of her limited experience, particularly in criminal and family law.
Page, who has acted as a judge at the high court for 22 weeks, disagreed with this.
“I have experience in the lower courts and I have dealt with civil law. It was quite easy for me to adjudicate civil matters of different matters of complexity. My limited acting experience shouldn’t be seen on its own; you need to look at the bigger picture of my 17 years of [judging] experience. I am fit, proper, capable and competent to adjudicate matters of complexity expeditiously,” said Page.
She had been in the legal profession for more than 28 years and that should also be taken into account, she said.
Page started her legal career in 1992 as a legal adviser at the Cape Town City Council. She worked as a magistrate from 2002 until 2019.
Commissioner Julius Malema, who is usually vocal during JSC interviews, was notably absent because he was at the Randburg Magistrates’ Court for a case related to an incident at Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral in 2018. A police officer was allegedly assaulted by Malema and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. DM
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