The organisation has called on Zondo to exercise restraint in his public engagements.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) has expressed concern about comments by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on former president Jacob Zuma’s legal battles.
This comes after Zondo questioned the repercussions of the former president 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 Zondo 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.
A court challenge then led to him being ordered back to jail, which he complied with, and he was granted special remission. National Commissioner of Correctional Services Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale said that this remission “applied to all other prisoners”.
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In an interview with Newzroom Afrika on Monday, Zondo questioned this.
Zondo said: “I won’t speak a lot about it because I understand there is litigation, but this I can say anyone who kept themselves informed about what was happening at the time, will simply know there were a lot of people who were saying: ‘If the government doesn’t want him to serve a sentence in jail, what is this corruption trial all about that has been going on for so long, and it means if he were to be found guilty, and of course at this stage we don’t know if he will be found guilty, even if he were to be found guilty and a judge sentences him to jail, it means that something will be done to make sure that he doesn’t stay in jail’.
“This is what people were asking, that I’m aware of. People are concerned about that.”
Should Zuma cases be shelved?
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.
“If the executive does anything after that, let the people know that the courts and the NPA have done their part.”
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.
Zuma and Thales have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Casac on Zondo
Casac said Zondo’s remarks were “unfortunate and ill-advised”.
Casac 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.”
It called on Zondo to exercise restraint in his public engagements.