South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Thomas Reetsang Mogoeng has weighed in on the electoral impasse currently facing Malawi with a plea for the Judiciary to discharge its duties without fear or favour. In an interview with our News Analyst SUZGO CHITETE, Mogoeng states why it is important that only people of integrity become judges.
The Judiciary is supposed to be independent. How do we ensure that it is free from any external influence and only accountable to the people?
The Judiciary is a servant of the people. The people employ us. The people pay us. We are, therefore, in this position as their servants and we must not hide behind judicial independence when we are called upon to account for how we serve the nation.
In South Africa, we have structures in place such as the Judicial Conduct Committee within the Judicial Service Committee that ensures that any misconduct by a judicial officer is confronted and dealt with.
How do you ensure there are no backlogs of cases and missing of case files in court?
We have created norms and standards that emphasise on the speedy finalisation of cases without undermining the quality of justice. We have also implemented programmes like Judicial Case Management that facilitate speedy finalisation of cases.
We have also arrested the stealing of files, dockets which used to happen before. We have digitised our filing system to avoid situations where cases drag due to missing files.
Talking about elections and politics, should electoral disputes really be decided by the courts?
I think it should. If you can’t have courts mediate these disputes, who else then? That is why it is of critical importance that those who become judges or magistrates are truly men and women of integrity because if you have a corrupt judge now charged with the responsibility to decide on an election matter, it is just a question of someone offering them money or promising them a promotion and then they end up making judgement in favour of those who are to benefit them. The nation should be vigilant against those who corrupt the justice system and be taken away from the system.
What would you recommend should be the appointment procedure for a judge to have only people with integrity, as you put it, for the job?
I don’t think there is any particular system that I may recommend, but the bottom line is this: Whatever system you adopt, just make sure there is transparency.
You can’t have a system where a politician just decides that I would like the following person for this position without the nation, the legal fraternity and even the media providing necessary input of what they know of the candidate.
For example, the President appointed me, but I had to be subjected to a two–day interview in the presence of the media. It was televised live. As if this was not enough, the public were allowed to make their submission of what they know about me. That should be the process. America, Germany, South Africa are doing it. We all can do it.
That is the appointment of the Chief Justice. I guess are you proposing the same for judges?
Yes, this is for judges. Allow a public interview. Television, radio, print media should all be allowed to be part of the process. The emphasis is that there must be transparency so that the nation should be satisfied that the appointed one is a credible candidate.
We are in a situation in Malawi where tempers are high and the situation is generally volatile as the nation awaits the outcome of the case in which Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party want the presidential election nullified. What would be your word of advice?
I think the bottom line is we all need to appreciate that the Judiciary has a critical role to play in securing peace and stability in any nation. We must not get to a point where the nation loses confidence in its Judiciary.
The Judiciary must always administer justice without fear, favour or prejudice. In the belief that my colleagues who are adjudicating this matter are men and women of integrity—what I can only say to the nation is that wait for the court to do its work and let justice prevail.