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Concourt isn't a holy cow
24 Feb 2012

CAPE TOWN — The government maintains that a proposed assessment of the Constitutional Court’s judgments is not an attempt to undermine judicial independence.

Spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said yesterday the cabinet had reinforced both President Jacob Zuma’s message and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe’s statement by “welcoming debate and discourse, which is characteristic of our constitutional democracy”.

Cabinet held its regular fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.

Manyi said in Cape Town the Justice and Constitutional Development Department further clarified the point that this “is an assessment of the impact of the judgments of the Constitutional Court on the transformation of society”.

“It is also an evaluation of the impact of our jurisprudence on the democratisation process,” he told reporters.

“Cabinet advises that this should not be misconstrued as an attempt to undermine the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law as entrenched in our Constitution,” he said.

Responding to questions at the briefing, he insisted that there were no “holy cows” and that everything could be “put under a spotlight”.

“We have impact that we need to look at in terms of how the rulings impact this democracy. It’s a young democracy that is growing, that we need to make sure that as we progress … there are no holy cows,” Manyi said.

“Everything in this country is going to be under a spotlight. So there is no part of this country that should be deemed a holy cow. Everything will be looked at objectively.”

He then said: “The only take we should have here is that this is meant to improve our democracy.” This remark was greeted by cries of “How?” from several journalists.

Calling on them “not to fight” with him, Manyi advised they hold their questions for a special justice department briefing on the matter next Tuesday.

There, the department, Radebe and legal experts would “talk at length” about the proposed assessment.

“So I don’t want to steal their thunder,” Manyi said, adding that he considered the assessment “a step in the right direction”.

Last week the Star reported that Zuma wanted to review the Constitutional Court’s powers.

“We don’t want to review the Constitutional Court, we want to review its powers,” Zuma said during an interview.

“It is after experience that some of the decisions are not decisions that every other judge in the Constitutional Court agrees with.” He questioned the logic of having split judgments and said judges were being influenced by the media.

“How could you say that [the] judgment is absolutely correct when the judges themselves have different views about it?” Zuma told the newspaper.

He said that if decisions by Parliament could be challenged, there was nothing wrong with questioning the judiciary.

His statements have been strongly criticised from various quarters.

Among others, Dene Smuts of the Democratic Alliance said Zuma would find he was on the path to a full-blown confrontation with the Constitutional Court if his remarks really “mean what they seem to mean”, because the court itself decided the constitutionality of constitutional amendments.

“It is apparent from the president’s remarks that irritation with some of the court’s judgments lies at the root of the desire for review,” she said.

— Sapa.

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