The Code of Judicial Conduct was as a result of stipulations within the Constitution that there be a complaints handling mechanism for the judiciary. The Code provided a clear framework for complaints to be lodged against judges by members of the public and had been drafted by the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court. The underlying principles that were part of the Code were derived from the Constitution. The Constitution required the appointment of judges that were fit and proper as well as appropriately qualified. The Code would serve to prescribe the necessary expectations for a person serving as a judicial officer. Impartiality and independence were crucial factors that permeated throughout the Code. The Judicial Service Commission Amendment Act of 2008 and the Code served to strike a balance between the independence and dignity of the judiciary. A breach of the Code would warrant a complaint against a judge. Any person who felt that the Judicial Code of Conduct had been breached by a judge would be entitled to lay a complaint against that judge at a police station. Judges were expected to give reasons for all decisions taken in all matters that they adjudicated on. Judgments written by judges had to be accessible to the persons to whom they applied. The Code would also serve to ensure an onus on Acting Judges, drawn from the advocate and attorney ranks, to complete all their work before their period of work came to an end. All reserved judgments should be delivered before the end of term or early next term.
The Code provided that a judge should not belong to a political party or secret organisation. A judge should also not be involved in any political controversy or activity. The judges had felt that they would be less compromised if they were not involved in any political party. In other international jurisdictions there were similar provisions but the wording was different as it provided that judges could vote and belong to a political party provided that they did not participate in one. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development held the same view as it did not want to take away judges’ civil rights. The conditions of service of judges had been designed in a manner that enhanced the independence, accountability and impartiality of judicial officers. This was why it was imperative that judges continued to conduct themselves in a manner that befitted a judicial officer even after retirement.
The Committee was concerned about the ability of judges, who were affiliated to political parties, to be impartial. The Committee was also concerned about retired judges serving as arbitrators. The Committee posed several questions on extra-judicial income of judges in instances where they had retired or were still in active service.
Code of Judicial Conduct: Policy and Legislative Background Presentation by Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
For more information visit the Parliamentary Monitoring Group Website: http://www.pmg.org.za
18 Jan 2011