Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng has introduced a new level of accountability for the judiciary never before experienced in South Africa through the Judiciary Annual Report.
Speaking in Johannesburg on Friday, Mogoeng explained that the three arms of state — the executive, parliament, and the judiciary — were all accountable to the people of South Africa.
While the judiciary is held accountable by parliament for the spending and management of public funding, the discharging of its powers and decisions of the courts are an independent function.
“With independence comes accountability,” stated Mogoeng in his address. “Public confidence is based on our moral authority.”
In an interview with Gateway News after delivering his report, and hosting a press conference, the chief justice unpacked his faith-based position on moral authority and various other topics.
Mogoeng has come in for severe criticism in the past for being an outspoken Christian, with some fearing he would impose Christian views on legal matters, or, at the very least, face a serious conflict of interest.
However, he is very clear about what his job is as the highest judge in the land.
“I never forget that I was probably the least qualified for the position of chief justice,” said Mogoeng.
“I came from a very small high court with only six judges and there really wasn’t much from my own point of view to justify my elevation to the position of chief justice.
“So God just wanted an available vessel that He knew would never seek to abuse the office for self-advertisement, would never seek to flaunt the power and the trappings that come with the office as if it was by my own ability that I got to occupy the position.”
Mogoeng draws from God’s Word for the discernment to do his work effectively: “I follow the strict divine regime of studying the Word of God daily, of praying daily, and embarking on protracted fasts as often as I’m able to, so that I stay connected.
“The result is that when a case that involves things that are even against the Word of God comes here, the Lord has helped me to realise that, ‘Look, you accepted this position knowing what the Constitution of South Africa looks like, knowing what the laws of South Africa look like, so don’t try to make your own laws that will suit your Christian faith. Don’t corrupt the constitution and the law. Just apply the law the way it is supposed to be applied, in line with your affirmation of office or your oath of office.
” ‘Be a person of integrity. Otherwise, people are going to say: “But Mogoeng is now corrupting the system — he’s just twisting it in such a way that it accords with his faith, even when the law is plain; what was this oath all about?” ‘
“So that has helped me a great deal because I seek guidance from God on anything, small or big, and He has never failed me.”
Among the measures announced by Mogoeng in his address at Constitution HIll were a move to introduce “win-win mediation” at courts, a push for judges to not write “scholarly” judgements but rather to deliver their judgements expeditiously, a drive to simplify the administrative burden on the courts by making English the single language for record-keeping (although people will still be able to testify and bring evidence in their language of choice), and an ongoing effort for the police to only bring matters to court that are ready for trial and have been sufficiently investigated.
He also wants to introduce an electronic document-filing system to cut costs and improve access to justice.
At a personal level, he said he draws from 1 Corinthians 27-29, especially when he reflects on his humble roots in a village: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
View video clip below from press conference at the inaugural Judicial Accountability Session: Chief Justice Mogoeng responds to a question about judicial activism: