The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC or Commission) notes with concern the recent unsubstantiated comments made by various public figures and political leaders attacking the independence of the judiciary.
The rule of law and an independent judiciary are fundamental elements of our Constitution and cornerstones of our democracy. The Constitution states that South Africa is a sovereign, democratic state founded on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism; supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law; and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.
The Constitution places great importance on the role of the judiciary in the system of checks and balances and accountability and towards protecting and promoting these values which are crucial for the transformation of the country. The judiciary further plays a crucial role in interpreting and applying the provisions in the Bill of Rights, to the benefit of all who reside in South Africa.
The importance of the principle of an independent judiciary is also affirmed in the provisions of various international treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981).
The recent unsubstantiated attacks on the judiciary by public figures undermine the Constitution and have the potential to bring the judiciary into disrepute. While proper judicial conduct is important in ensuring that judges act impartially, public confidence in the institution of the judiciary and the institutional legitimacy of the courts are also fundamental to creating an effective system of justice.
As an institution established to support democracy in South Africa, the Commission contends that public figures should refrain from making unsubstantiated claims about the independence of the judiciary as such comments have the potential of tainting the effective functioning of our democracy, and its globally revered components including the judiciary.
Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission