A few reflections on the role of courts, government, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society in a constitutional democracy

This contribution is a reworked version of a lecture presented at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, on 17 September 2008, commemorating the University’s centenary celebrations. Contrasting the pre- and post-constitutional legal landscapes in South Africa, the author emphasizes that political meddling in judicial affairs, previously left in a legal void, is now very clearly circumscribed by the constitutionally entrenched principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. The author proceeds to analyse aspects of the relationship between the courts, on the one hand, and the government, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society, on the other hand. The relationship between courts and the government is fraught with tension, but so far the executive has readily complied with almost all court decisions, and the court has steered a cautious course when it comes to interference in the legislature. The importance of the legal profession, both inside and outside courtrooms, is underlined, and the crucial role of universities in fostering free speech is emphasized. Turning to the media, the author acknowledges the importance of an informed public, and responsible reporting. He takes the media to task for some irresponsible and factually incorrect reporting. In conclusion, the author emphasizes the important role of civil society and of continuous debate, analysis and criticism in the attainment of South Africa’s ‘constitutional project’. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]

Title: A few reflections on the role of courts, government, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society in a constitutional democracy
Author: Van der Westhuizen, Johann
Year: 2008
Periodical: African Human Rights Law Journal
Volume: 8
Issue: 2
Pages: 251-272
Language: English
Geographic term: South Africa
Abstract: This contribution is a reworked version of a lecture presented at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, on 17 September 2008, commemorating the University’s centenary celebrations. Contrasting the pre- and post-constitutional legal landscapes in South Africa, the author emphasizes that political meddling in judicial affairs, previously left in a legal void, is now very clearly circumscribed by the constitutionally entrenched principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. The author proceeds to analyse aspects of the relationship between the courts, on the one hand, and the government, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society, on the other hand. The relationship between courts and the government is fraught with tension, but so far the executive has readily complied with almost all court decisions, and the court has steered a cautious course when it comes to interference in the legislature. The importance of the legal profession, both inside and outside courtrooms, is underlined, and the crucial role of universities in fostering free speech is emphasized. Turning to the media, the author acknowledges the importance of an informed public, and responsible reporting. He takes the media to task for some irresponsible and factually incorrect reporting. In conclusion, the author emphasizes the important role of civil society and of continuous debate, analysis and criticism in the attainment of South Africa’s ‘constitutional project’. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]