CJ Zondo comments fall short of the conduct expected of a judge |CASAC.
By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) believes Chief justice Raymond Zondo has transgressed the boundaries of acceptable speech by judges and should be reproached.
This comes after Zondo questioned the repercussions of the former president Jacob Zuma avoiding jail following his release on medical parole.
Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail in July 2021 for defying a Constitutional Court order to appear at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture, chaired by Zondo.
He was released on medical parole in September by the former correctional services commissioner, Arthur Fraser, after serving just two months of the sentence.
Zondo further said that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should prosecute Zuma if it believes it has enough evidence to justify doing so.
"I would not say any trial must stop, but they must continue doing what we believe is right. The NPA believes it has a strong case against him, that’s why they are pursuing the charges, the courts are there ready to conduct a fair trial and assess evidence and if they find that he's guilty, they'll look into what the appropriate sentence should be and impose a sentence that will fit the circumstances," said Zondo.
Zuma and the French arms manufacturer Thales are facing charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering, and racketeering, among others, related to the arms deal procurement concluded while he was vice president.
Zondo participated in a wide-ranging interview on Newzroom Afrika where he expressed his views on several topics, including the implementation of the recommendations of the state capture commission, judicial misconduct and the pending prosecution of Zuma.
The interview follows the Zondo's remarks at the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council conference last week, in which he expressed views on similar issues.
In a statement, Casac said Zondo's remarks were "unfortunate and ill-advised".
The NGO cited the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to "not publicly comment on the merits of any case pending before, or determined by, that judge or any other court" and to "not express views in a manner which may undermine the standing and integrity of the judiciary".
Casac claimed Zondo may have crossed boundaries of acceptable speech by judges during his interview.
"More concerning were the Chief Justice's comments regarding the pending arms deal corruption trial of former president Zuma, a matter that is still pending before the High Court, as well as his insinuation that Zuma may, in future, benefit from a remission of sentence if tried and convicted," said Casac.
"With his comments on contentious political issues, the Chief Justice may be perceived as wading into the public discourse about partisan politics and potentially bringing his impartiality (and that of his colleagues) into question at a time of fierce political contestation ahead of the 2024 general elections.
"It is important to remember that the job of Chief Justice is primarily that of a judge and that the office of a judge requires prudence, restraint and the maintenance of comity between the judiciary and the other two arms of the state."