Ramaphosa suspends Senzo Meyiwa murder trial judge over alleged excessive judgment delays
President Cyril Ramaphosa has cracked the whip on two judges accused of misconduct for not delivering judgments within a reasonable period, handing them suspensions.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has suspended Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela — who has been presiding over the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial — and Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi. Both sit on the Gauteng high court bench.
On Thursday afternoon the president said the suspension was to allow the Judicial Conduct Tribunal to investigate suspected misconduct regarding alleged excessive delays by the judges in handing down a significant number of judgments.
Read more in Daily Maverick: More than 150 court judgments outstanding for more than six months, according to most recent report
Daily Maverick previously reported that in terms of judicial norms and standards, which were gazetted in 2014, judgments in both civil and criminal matters should generally not be reserved without a fixed date for being handed down. Saving for exceptional cases where it is not possible to do so, every effort must be made to hand down judgments no later than three months after the last hearing.
The president’s decision comes exactly two months after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended that Ramaphosa immediately suspend the duo pending the outcome of a Judicial Conduct Tribunal hearing to consider complaints against them.
The JSC at the time said complaints against the duo were so serious that if they were established to be accurate, they would indicate incapacity, gross incompetence or gross misconduct.
Spokesperson for the president, Vincent Magwenya said Ramaphosa had taken this step in terms of Section 177(3) of the Constitution, which empowers him to suspend a judge on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
The pair will be allowed to finalise all matters presently before them, according to the JSC. However, this may not be the case for Maumela, who has been presiding over the trial concerning murdered Bafana Bafana football star Senzo Meyiwa for several years.
The trial hit a snag two weeks ago when Maumela could not preside over the matter due to ill health.
Gauteng Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba told the court at the time: “The reason why I am appearing is because my colleague Judge Maumela is not available due to ill health and may not be available for a long time, subject to what his doctors may say.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Senzo Meyiwa’s family distraught after postponement of murder trial due to judge’s ill health
Ledwaba did not rule out the possibility of another judge presiding over the trial.
“However, because of the importance of this matter and the publicity it is getting from the media, we have made arrangements that this matter should proceed in the third term so it can be finalised as soon as possible,” Ledwaba said.
The trial is scheduled to resume on 17 July 2023.
Legal expert JP Venter said the suspension could have huge implications on different fronts depending on how the state wishes to proceed in the matter. He added that in an event where a judge died, was taken ill or could not continue presiding over a trial for any reason, a trial was likely to start over. However, this was dependent on the state and where the matter was being heard.
Speaking to City Press , Alison Tilley — attorney and Judges Matter coordinator — suggested that the three month limit on rulings was insufficient. “Judges are stretched. The workload increases but the number of judges does not. We have about 250 judges. It is a difficult job under extreme pressure. Asking judges to hand down judgments in three months in the current environment is just not reasonable. I would rather see a benchmark setting that is more reasonable. For instance, setting it at six months, then, thereafter, judges can ask for an extension. I think the standards aren’t designed for the workload that judges have.”
The exact details of the delays by these two judges is not yet clear. DM