Justice minister's 'own goal': he can't help #FeesMustFall activist get a pardon - experts

Justice and constitutional development minister Roland Lamola has been accused on Twitter of undermining the judiciary, while law experts say it's inappropriate for him to say he'll help a convict apply for presidential pardon just hours after a court refused leave to appeal.
Justice and constitutional development minister Roland Lamola has been accused on Twitter of undermining the judiciary, while law experts say it's inappropriate for him to say he'll help a convict apply for presidential pardon just hours after a court refused leave to appeal.
Image: Gallo Images/Sowetan/ Kabelo Mokoena

A request for presidential pardon should come from convicted #FeesMustFall activist Kanya Cekeshe, not from the justice minister, law experts say.

Justice minister Ronald Lamola announced on Twitter on Monday that his office would be helping Cekeshe to apply for presidential pardon after the latter's application for leave to appeal his conviction was dismissed by the Johannesburg magistrate's court on the same day.

Lamola made the statement despite Cekeshe's advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi's indication to court that he had been instructed to appeal against the magistrate's decision in the high court.

Cekeshe is serving a five-year jail sentence for public violence and damage to property.

Criminal law expert Dr Llewellyn Curlewis said the defence should be allowed to take all avenues available to it before the minister could intervene.

"The defence can still petition the high court. There is a further avenue of appeal, to the supreme court of appeal and to the constitutional court, either by way of a petition or leave to appeal," Curlewis said.

Curlewis said only after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted would the minister be expected to entertain an application for pardon.

"The minister must be careful not to intervene under these circumstances," he said.

Curlewis said the department should receive an application for pardon for processing, and then the minister should then make a recommendation to the president on whether to grant pardon.

Wits University's criminal law expert Prof Stephen Tuson shared Curlewis's sentiments, adding that there must be compelling grounds for the presidential pardon application.

"He [Cekeshe] should be applying and the minister should assess the merits of the case, when the application arises [from Cekeshe] and look at all factors, consider the facts and the motivation behind the application," Tuson said.

He said when Cekeshe had made the application, Lamola would then make a decision on whether to support it after he had looked at all the factors.

Twitter users weighed in on Lamola's announcement that he would help Cekeshe apply for presidential pardon.

"Are you the justice minister or just another politician meddling with our justice system?" asked Unathi Kwaza.

"This from the justice minister few hours after the judge made a ruling undermines the judiciary that the minister has to rule. Couldn't he wait a bit before [he] took sides? This is pathetic and an own goal from the minister," said @Earnmass.

Robert Abrahams said: "He is just unbelievable. What the hell is he doing. Is he going to subvert the courts to be populist. There is already the perception that the law can be manipulated by the powerful".

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