Attacks on courts should stop

The writer is uncomfortable with a political trend that is currently finding it easy to attack the courts when judgments do not go its way.
The writer is uncomfortable with a political trend that is currently finding it easy to attack the courts when judgments do not go its way.
Image: JAMES OATWAY

It is within our democratic rights as citizens to criticise court decisions we are not happy with.

But such criticism should not impugn the integrity of the court and the judiciary without evidence to suggest that.

Given how polarised our society has become on legal and political issues involving public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, on the one side, and President Cyril Ramaphosa and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, on the other, perhaps it is natural that some would view court judgments in relation to these figures in political, rather than legal, terms.

This has always been the big risk of law-fare - the practice of fighting political battles through the legal system. At one stage or another, the courts end up being seen by at least one side as a player, rather than an arbitrator, to the conflict.

Despite the pressure that has come with more political arguments ending up before our courts, our judges have widely handled themselves with integrity and high professional standards.

Most of the court judgments relating to major political cases are based on sound law and due regard for the constitution. Fair-minded South Africans would most likely agree that our courts are robust and fair and that they make up their minds without fear or favour.

However, we are worried by a political tendency that is currently finding it easy to attack the courts when judgments do not go its way. We saw this last week when the Constitutional Court ruled against Mkhwebane in a case involving the SA Reserve Bank and Absa.

We saw it again yesterday when the North Gauteng High Court granted an interdict that suspended Mkhwebane's remedial action in a case involving Gordhan.

Instead of engaging with the court's judgment, which can still be challenged at a higher court, some of Mkhwebane's supporters took to social media to attack the judge.

Others are even accusing the entire judiciary of being "captured" simply because, on a number of occasions, it has found against a public protector they like.

This is a dangerous path they are dragging us down to. It may result in the credibility of the justice system being undermined in the eyes of the general public.

And without such credibility, and the belief that our courts are independent, mob justice would be the order of the day.

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