Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told judges in all African countries to be prepared to defend their country’s constitution and the rule of law with their lives.
Speaking during the opening of the fourth congress of the Conference of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa in Cape Town, the South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Thomas Reetsang Mogoeng told African judges that while Government can pose a strong threat to the judiciary, judges should not yield to the pressure, but they should even be willing to die for the ideal of an independent judiciary and rule of law.
Mogoeng, who was speaking on the year’s theme which centers on “The promotion of an independent judiciary and the rule of law” made reference to Ghana’s three judges who were assassinated because they held on to their integrity and refused to bow to political pressure.
The three Ghanaian Judges were reportedly murdered on June 30, 1982, with an army officer and though the reason for their assassinations was yet known, rumor has it that it was politically related.
The perpetrators have not been brought to book, but every year, the Ghana Bar Association holds a memorial service in their honor.
“So when you become a judge you know that there are risks. But remember that most of the African countries are free because people have died. So if you have to die for the sake of the many, so be it rather than corrupt yourself and live with a guilty conscience because you are unprincipled and people have to suffer because you pretend to be a judge when in fact you are a puppet,” said chief Justice Mogoeng.
Other notable judges Justice Mogoeng made reference to include the American judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who was appointed to the US Supreme Court by his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1902. Roosevelt expected the friendship to work to his advantage, but Holmes later ruled against Roosevelt in an important case.
Expecting their friendship to extend to beyond their services to the nation, Roosevelt was disappointed when his friend Holmes ruled against his “big railroad men and other members of large corporations”.
Chief Justice Mogoeng said Holmes “preferred judicial independence, integrity, and character over the favors he would receive from what politicians might dish out to those who are weak and prepared to have the system corrupted.”
“The judiciary was a critical component of any genuine democracy as opposed to a fake democracy or mobocracy.
“Integrity is what defines us,” her said
The chief Justice is well known for his fight to protect the rule of law. He said the judiciary is praised by governments only when they win cases and do the opposite when decisions are made against them.
“Our independence requires that we be alive to it possibly being compromised by foreign interests, warlords, and modern day dictators.”
“Corruption will be perpetrated in your country, you will have one opportunity after the other to say no, as is your responsibility as the judiciary – but because you are hungry for power, for prestige and positions and even money, you will forget about the suffering of the millions of people in Africa suffering from poor education and health and abject poverty Africa has been characterised by,” Mogoeng said, pointing out that ways in which judges are being appointed need to be re- examined.
It’s not right that a politician will just wake up and appoint anyone he likes, there must be must be systems in place to authenticate the suitability of those assuming judicial office, their competence must be tested and we need to look at the renewability of terms of office of judges, he said.
The chief justice also called on governments in various African countries to make sure their judges are well paid .“We will have to look at any other aspects relevant to ensuring that the possibility of being beholden to other players in the state or outside is reduced, he added.