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Government and judges to be careful in criticism

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng believes one should be open to criticism because one may learn something from it.

But the country’s judiciary and executive powers have nonetheless agreed to be more circumspect about public statements criticising one another.

This after a day-long meeting between the executive and the judiciary on Thursday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to clear the air concerning the relations between the two arms of state.

At a media briefing in the early evening‚ President Jacob Zuma and Mogoeng said the parties agreed that both had a duty to protect the Constitution and there should be respect for the rule of law.

The heads of court had mandated Mogoeng last month to request a meeting with Zuma to discuss the general gratuitous criticism of the judiciary by cabinet ministers and other politicians.

The request for the meeting followed recent criticism of the judiciary by African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande‚ while Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said “some elements of the judiciary meet with characters to produce certain judgments”.

In June‚ the government also disregarded a high court order that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir be prevented from leaving South Africa after an African Union conference in Johannesburg‚ arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Court.

Zuma chaired Thursday’s eight-a-side meeting‚ which he described as “historic”.

Zuma said the parties reaffirmed their commitment to the independence of the judiciary‚ rule of law and separation of powers‚ all of which underscore the constitutional democracy.

He said they agreed to exercise care and caution regarding public statements criticising one another.

“Failure to do so will undermine the global status of the republic as a bastion of democracy‚ tolerance‚ human rights and the rule of law‚” Zuma said.

The parties also agreed that court orders should be respected and complied with.

“This meeting is the foundation of future engagements to discuss issues that might arise from time to time‚” Zuma said‚ adding that the meeting would enable the executive and judiciary to work together to serve the people of South Africa.

Mogoeng said the judiciary reaffirmed its collective commitment to executing its constitutional mandate only in a manner required of the judiciary by the Constitution and the law.

“We have come together as a result of statements critical of the judiciary. This is a positive step forward towards measures that might not have been taken in the past to zoom in on these attacks in the future‚” Mogoeng said.

The chief justice said the judiciary was doing what it was supposed to do.

“I would be worried if differences were of a minor nature. Our democracy is demonstrably healthy‚ hence these concerns.”

He said there is no constitutional crisis but a moment for introspection.

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