Who Will be the Next Chief Justice after Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng?

When former president Jacob Zuma appointed Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice in September 2011 – after Sandile Ngcobo’s brief term of office – there were fears that the conservative jurist from North West would be nothing but a Zuma lackey.

And while Mogoeng did show some flickering of independence and fealty to the law, his term as the keeper of judicial independence and leader of the judiciary will not be remembered as one which leaves the bench in a better state than before. Allegations of improper influence on judges, ANC influence in appointments and an anti-intellectual and anti-legal bent exhibited by member of the Judicial Service Commission recently has cast a pall on judges and the judiciary.

Mogoeng will be retiring within weeks. And President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision on who will replace him will surely be one of the weightiest decisions he will have to make during his presidency. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and in terms of the Constitution, third in line to be head of state. The appointee is the most senior jurist in the country, responsible for the functioning of the Constitutional Court and acts as the guarantor of the independence of all the lower courts.

Confidence (and faith) in law and order and in the state’s ability to enforce and ensure it has never been lower. State capture and failing governance means South Africans’ trust in institutions is wearing thin. The judiciary has held up better than most (think SARS or the NPA), but its reputation (think Judge President John Hlophe) has taken a beating. A new Chief Justice will have to ensure independence, professionalism and efficiency. At least two of those markers have taken a pounding under Mogoeng.

Pieter du Toit – News24 Assistant Editor

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