South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest judicial body in the land, i about to see a refreshing change in its composition. President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed three exceptional legal minds to serve as acting judges in the Constitutional Court. This development marks a departure from the traditional route to the bench and aims to bring fresh perspectives and expertise into the court’s proceedings.
Introducing the Appointees
President Ramaphosa’s selections include:
- Advocate Alan Dodson SC: A distinguished member of the Johannesburg Bar, Advocate Alan Dodson SC will be acting as a judge from the 1st to the 30th of November this year. His wealth of experience and legal acumen make him a valuable addition to the Constitutional Court during this period.
- Advocate Matthew Chaskalson: Advocate Chaskalson will serve as an acting judge during two separate periods: from the 1st of November to the 15th of December and from the 1st of February to the 31st of March next year. His expertise in constitutional law and human rights is expected to contribute significantly to the court’s proceedings.
- Professor David Bilchitz: Professor Bilchitz, a distinguished figure in the field of constitutional law and human rights, will act as an acting judge from the 1st of February to the 31st of March next year. His academic background and deep knowledge in these areas will bring a unique perspective to the bench.
The Significance of the Appointments
These appointments signify a notable shift in the way judges are selected for South Africa’s Constitutional Court. Traditionally, the court has been primarily composed of judges who have climbed the ranks of the South African judiciary, typically starting as magistrates or judges in lower courts. The appointment of two senior lawyers and an esteemed law professor is a reflection of the changing dynamics within the legal landscape in South Africa.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has historically struggled to attract suitable candidates to fill judicial vacancies at the Constitutional Court. This situation has led to delays in appointments and challenges in maintaining a full bench. President Ramaphosa’s decision to appoint two advocates and a professor to serve as acting judges highlights his commitment to addressing these challenges and ensuring the effective functioning of the Constitutional Court.
Reviving an Old Practice
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo played a pivotal role in these appointments by reviving an old practice. He recommended the appointment of two senior lawyers and a law professor to act as judges in the Constitutional Court. This practice, which had been relatively dormant in recent years, has now been rekindled to tap into the diverse legal expertise available in the country.
Bringing New Perspectives to the Bench
The inclusion of advocates and a legal scholar in the Constitutional Court as acting judges is expected to have a profound impact on the court’s decisions and deliberations. These individuals bring fresh insights, experiences, and academic rigor to the bench, which can enhance the court’s ability to address complex legal issues.
Advocate Dodson, Advocate Chaskalson, and Professor Bilchitz are likely to approach cases from different angles, drawing on their varied backgrounds and legal training. This diversity of thought can lead to more comprehensive and well-rounded judgments that take into account a broader spectrum of legal perspectives.
Enhancing Constitutional Law and Human Rights
Given the backgrounds and expertise of the appointees, the Constitutional Court can expect an intensified focus on constitutional law and human rights during their tenure. This shift aligns with the court’s role as the ultimate guardian of the South African Constitution and the protector of citizens’ rights and freedoms.
Professor Bilchitz, in particular, is renowned for his work in the field of human rights, making his appointment a significant step in reinforcing the court’s dedication to protecting and upholding human rights in South Africa.
The appointment of two senior advocates and a distinguished law professor to serve as acting judges in the Constitutional Court is a notable step in diversifying the bench and addressing longstanding challenges in judicial appointments. This initiative brings fresh perspectives, deep legal expertise, and a commitment to constitutional law and human rights to the highest court in South Africa. As these appointees take their seats on the bench, they have the potential to reshape the legal landscape and ensure that the Constitutional Court continues to be a beacon of justice and constitutional interpretation for all South Africans.