Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2007-09-15 Reporter: Sapa

Zuma : Judiciary Must Remain Independent



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The judiciary must and should always be independent from the executive and Parliament, and be resistant to influence from any quarter, African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.

In an address to the Gauteng Law Council, he said the country should guard against the passing of legislation that could give investigating powers -- which should be vested with the police -- to the judicial system.

"... History has shown the dangers of the judiciary succumbing to undue influence and manipulation from those in power. In some countries, the courts come under the influence of the executive to suppress and ill-treat political opponents," he said.

Zuma said the country should never allow a situation where there was political influence over the judiciary.

"If we do, we will be on a slippery slide where the abuse of political power would lead to the unravelling of our democracy."

It was important for the public to have confidence in the judiciary and respect for its decisions.

Judgements might not always be popular but they would be "defendable" if they were lawful and just, he said.

"It is the judges who know the law and citizens do not always respect the rule of law."

Zuma said that "in sensational cases" where public opinion and the media pushed for the judgement they wanted, the presiding officers were faced with tremendous pressure "to do what is perceived to be the right thing".

He said history had shown that in some cases the sway of public opinion could influence the way judges ruled on cases.

Situations where the public had been "hysterically provoked" over certain cases should be avoided as this created a "counter-productive state to sound and due legal process".

"The current practice where people are found guilty in the court of public opinion can hardly be described as justice. It is perverse and inconsistent with the rule of law," Zuma said. -- Sapa

With acknowledgements to Sapa and Mail and Guardian.