Thursday, July 18, 2024

Zero marks to the judiciary

Over the past decade it has been absolutely necessary for this  column to defend and take sides with the judiciary.


During that time, we deemed irrefutable that the judiciary had to be cushioned against the encroaching politicization and sometimes not so subtle attacks from the executive.


That loyalty to the judiciary, that has often come across as unconditional will however not stop us from expressing what seems to be shades of ethical impropriety coming from that quarter.


Over the last two weeks the media has been loaded with unsavoury allegations against some sections of the judiciary.


It would seem like at least four High Court judges have been receiving money that is not due to them.


In at least one incident, the amount received is in the region of half a million, or thereabout.


This is by any measure a lot of money.


Such information has been revealed by an audit of the department justice.


Instead of showing remorse and accepting blame the response from the  affected has been to try to claim a moral high ground that they so clearly do not deserve.


They want the Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo to be impeached for reporting the matter to the police.


They are linking their current behavior to  past cases of judges’ differences to the Chief Justice.


This is scandalous.


What our affected learned judges do not seem to appreciate is the simple fact that this is by no means a legal matter.


Rather it is a matter of public trust.


We expect better from our judges.


In fact we deserve better.


Members of the public have in the past been sent to prison, by the judiciary,  for receiving public money that was not due to them.


Now the judges want a different set of rules for themselves.


They say receiving money that was not due to them, over such a long stretch of time is a mere administrative issue.


They are saying that they were not aware that they received so much money, that was not due to them, over such a long time. 


It is hard to believe.


They remind me of a cabinet minister some twenty years ago who when asked why he was not servicing his loan with the National Development Bank replied that the fault was the bank’s because they had not reminded him.


By turning on the Chief Justice, the affected judges are clearly trying to win sympathy with the public.


It is called grandstanding.


And it should not be allowed.


Johan Kriggler, a retired  South African judge once said judges are lawyers, not sages.


He was right.


But then judges are a different and indeed separate set of lawyers.


Which is why we expect more and better from them.


The public measures the  judges with a much higher ethical yardstick.


It is exactly because of that reason that we are able to entrust them with such big matters that affect us the lesser mortals.


We are thus hugely embarrassed, infact worried when judges behave just like us the ordinary Joes.


 Whether the affected judges are covered by law or not is really not an issue here on this instance.


What harm their behavior has done to the credibility of the judiciary and indeed to their personal reputations vastly outweighs whatever consolation they might ever retrieve from legal technicalities, including impeaching a Chief Justice.


 The judiciary is the last bastion to which the public looks up to in the defence and interpretation of the moral code that we aspire as a people.


Our affected judges have badly failed that test.


Instead of clutching at the straws by calling on the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the affected judges should individually consider resigning.


Whether they are right in saying the Chief Justice should have resolved the matter administratively is really not an issue.


The issue is that it will be a hard sell in future to expect members of the public accused of receiving public money that was not due to submit themselves by way of appearing before any of the said judges.

 The judiciary is much more than just interpreting law.


It has much to do with public trust and public confidence.


Rightly or wrongly, receiving money not due to them our judges have created a difficult impression that money means much more to then than we have hitherto been able to appreciate.


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