Two weeks ago I wrote to the President suggesting ways in which he should consult with leaders of opposition parties more meaningfully in the appointment of Constitutional Court judges. In the past the President’s consultation had been inadequate, and we suggested specific ways in which the constitutionally required consultation process could be made more substantive.
Today, my office received a formal request for consultation on the candidates for the Constitutional Court vacancy. Significantly, President Zuma seems to have conceded to three of the requests we made. This is an important step towards real and meaningful consultation between the President and leaders of opposition parties on judicial appointments. The President’s new commitment to real consultation is welcomed by the Democratic Alliance.
Firstly, the DA requested that opposition parties be consulted on the full short list of candidates, and not just on the President’s preferred candidate – as has been the case in the past. In his letter today – for the first time – the President has done so, asking for submissions on all four candidates.
Following from this, the President’s request for submissions on all four possible candidates suggests that he is still open to considering the submissions we and other opposition parties make. This is important, as it indicates that the President has not already made up his mind, and that today’s letter is a bona fide request that will inform his final decision. This is a first.
Thirdly, President Zuma has also heeded my request for a fair time frame to be allowed for the compilation of submissions on the suitability of judge candidates. Previously he had asked for consultation only at the very last moment, when his mind was seemingly already made up. This time, however, he has asked well in advance and has allowed 12 days for the consultation process.
This important change of heart opens the door for consultation on judicial appointments to become a meaningful endeavour, where the opposition gets the opportunity to make informed submissions on all candidates.
It is my hope that the President will this time around consult with an open mind, and make a decision only after considering all submissions. It is what the Constitution demands, and what is in the best interest of all South Africans.