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Lawyers and academics may be appointed directly to the ConCourt, says Zondo

Chief justice has already moved to secure two senior lawyers and an academic to act before JSC's April 2024 interviews

Franny Rabkin Legal correspondent
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says senior lawyers and legal academics will be considered for appointment directly to the Constitutional Court.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says senior lawyers and legal academics will be considered for appointment directly to the Constitutional Court.
Image: FREDDY MAVUNDA

For the first time in decades, senior lawyers and legal academics will be considered for appointment directly to the Constitutional Court.

This was announced by chief justice Raymond Zondo on Tuesday. 

Zondo made the announcement on the sidelines of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews, adding he had already moved to secure two practitioners and one academic to act before the JSC’s April interviews. He had consulted with justice minister Ronald Lamola to request President Cyril Ramaphosa to make the acting appointments. 

The constitution does not preclude non-judges from being appointed as justices at South Africa’s highest court. But the long-standing practice over decades has been that it was preferable for judges who “had been through the ranks” to be appointed to the Constitutional Court, said Zondo. 

However, the JSC has struggled to find enough candidates from the ranks of the judiciary to make themselves available for the apex court.

A seat on the Constitutional Court has been vacant since October 2021. In both October 2022 and April 2023 the JSC was unable to interview for the post because it could not get a shortlist of enough candidates.

The constitution requires that the JSC recommend to the president three more candidates than the number of posts available — so, if there is one post, the JSC must recommend at least four candidates from which the president may make his choice. 

In this round of interviews, the JSC did not advertise the post. Zondo said this was because he feared the same thing would happen as what happened in April.

Zondo told the media that the Constitutional Court needed at least some judges with constitutional expertise. But he said it appeared from JSC interviews that, unless a candidate was already a constitutional law expert when they were appointed a judge to the high court, they might not acquire that expertise while on the high court bench. 

He hoped that this new development meant the JSC would be “spoilt for choice” at its April 2024 interviews.

He would not be drawn on the names of the three he had approached to act.

TimesLIVE

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