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Judges ‘will not be intimidated by anybody’, no matter who they are, says Zondo

Judges ‘will not be intimidated by anybody’, no matter who they are, says Zondo
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the 2023 State of the Nation Address at Parliament on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

Despite the July 2021 riots, attacks on judges and other incidents that tested the judiciary, the Constitutional Court had stood firm in protecting the Constitution, the Chief Justice said on ‘Judiciary Day’.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s unprecedented contempt of court and subsequent July 2021 unrest are among the incidents that tested the Constitutional Court’s role as the upper guardian of the Constitution to the “limit” in 2021/22.   

This is according to Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as he presented the annual judiciary report at the Constitutional Court in Braamfontein on Friday.  

Referred to as “Judiciary Day”, publishing the report and performance indicators is an attempt, introduced by retired Chief Justice Mogoeng  Mogoeng in 2018, to create greater transparency surrounding the judiciary.  

Judge Sisi Khampepe’s thunderous indictment of Zuma’s contempt of court on behalf of a Constitutional Court majority saw the former president sentenced to 15 months’ in prison, a decision that triggered unrest and several attacks on judges.  

Read more in Daily Maverick:ConCourt finds Jacob Zuma guilty of ‘unprecedented’ contempt, seals sanction with 15-month jail sentence

During that period, Zondo said, “judges were attacked, demeaned, threatened and intimidated… this became so bad that the Constitutional Court justices had to be given special protection. All this because the courts sought to play their role provided for in the Constitution.” 

Despite those attacks, the ruling had been critical to protect not only the Constitution, but the country’s democracy. 

“The rest of what happened is history, but I have no doubt to say that the Constitutional Court played a critical role in protecting our Constitution and our democracy in the matters that came before it, that related to defiance of the Constitution, defiance of summons and defiance of an order of our highest court.”   

Another event that had a similar impact was the attack on the judiciary by Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. 

Zondo said the judiciary responded to her remarks decisively at the time adding that while the judiciary might not respond to every “criticism or insult, it reserves to itself the right to draw a line whenever it may draw it and respond publicly and decisively to attacks on it”. 

“Very often these attacks are from people who want judges to decide certain cases in a certain way or who are upset that the judiciary decided cases a certain way.” 

Zondo issued a stern warning to those doubting the credibility of judges.  

“I take this opportunity as Chief Justice and head of judiciary to make one thing clear: The judiciary of South Africa, from the Chief Justice at the top down to the district court or wherever, will not be intimidated by anybody, no matter his or her position in society, into giving judgements that do not accord with the Constitution, the law and evidence in a particular case.  

“We will always decide cases without fear, favour or prejudice. This is the oath of office we have taken and this is the oath of office we will always honour.”  

Favourable report

The 82-page report reflected a judiciary that is mostly in good health for the 2021/22 financial year, when considering the targets met by different courts compared with other South African institutions.  

Read more in Daily Maverick:Judiciary meets most targets despite cyberattack and Covid-19

For example, the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court achieved between 70% and 80% of their annual targets.  

Only the Land Claims Court ranked below 50%, achieving 49%. Zondo said this was “unacceptable” since it meant underachievement of 11% against the set annual target of 60%.    

“This is due to the fact that the work of the court was severely hampered by the combined impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and load shedding during the period under review.

“Covid-19 negatively affected the court’s ability to physically travel to adjudicate land claims trials, which could not be heard virtually. The absence of a generator until November 2022 meant that cases could not be heard during the frequent bouts of load shedding,” he said. 

Other courts performed as follows: 

Superior courts

For the period under review, 10 of 13 performance targets were achieved – a 77% achievement. Only three were not achieved: Percentage of Competition Appeal Court cases finalised: 50%.

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Percentage of Land Claims Court cases finalised: 49%. Reduction percentage of criminal case backlogs: 49%.

Constitutional Court

A total of 389 matters out of 554 were finalised, a performance on par with the annual target of 70%.  

“This is an improvement of 9% compared to the percentage achievement (61%) recorded during the previous reporting period. The total number of matters dealt with by the Constitutional Court increased by 24% from 445 matters during 2020/21 to 554 matters during 2021/22,” said Zondo. 

Supreme Court of Appeal

The SCA achieved 80% by finalising 194 appeals out of a total caseload of 242, which is on par with the annual target of 80%. 

“Compared to the previous financial year, the SCA managed to maintain an 80% and above achievement. [It] achieved 97% performance by finalising 1,075 applications/petitions out of a total caseload of 1,113. 

“This represents an overachievement of 17% performance measured against the annual set target of 80%. Compared to the previous year, the SCA managed to exceed the set target of 80% during both reporting periods by finalising 1,082 and 1,075 applications and petitions, respectively,” the report states. 

Specialised courts

“The Labour Appeal Court achieved 85% by finalising 78 appeals out of a total caseload of 92, which exceeds the annual set target of 80% by 5%. The Labour Appeal Court achieved 100% performance by finalising 152 petitions out of a total caseload of 152. This represents an overachievement of 10% performance measured against the annual set target of 90%.”

Labour Court

The Labour Court sits mainly in four locations – Durban, Gqeberha, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The caseload increased all of them except Durban, with the largest increase in Gqeberha (46%). 

“Matters finalised in the various Labour Court centres have increased by 38% (Gqeberha), 37% (Cape Town) and 26% (Johannesburg). A decline of 23% is noted in the number of matters finalised by the centre in Durban, which can mainly be ascribed to resource constraints.”

Electoral Court

The Electoral Court achieved a 100% performance by finalising all 13 matters. 

Competition Appeal Court

The Competition Appeal Court achieved 50% performance by finalising three of its six matters, underachieving by 35% against the annual target of 85%. This was mainly due to a lack of permanent appointed judges, which means judges assigned to this court were not readily available. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Our judiciary is a shining beacon of hope in a dysfunctional and collapsing state administration. Surprisingly no mention was made of the scandal in the Western Cape.

  • virginia crawford says:

    I respect the judiciary as an essential pillar in a democracy, however the regular scandals do raise questions about the appointment of seriously flawed individuals. Judge Hlophe has been a disgrace for years and years, an acting judge Paul Kennedy is implicated in very serious crimes and that fool in Paarl are a few examples.

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