The move by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to finally hold public interviews for judges, albeit at its discretion, has been welcomed with open arms.
A move some say is long overdue.
To cement this, the JSC announced yesterday that three shortlisted candidates for the first
of their kind public interviews for positions in the High Court will square off next week.
They are Lady Justice Philanda Christiaan (Acting), Advocate Slysken Makando and Advocate Beatrix de Jager. The public interviews are scheduled to take place on 8 December, commencing at 9h00 in Courtroom B of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Peter Shivute in a government gazette released earlier yesterday said the “[Judicial Service] Commission may if it deems it necessary, call any person nominated in terms of sub regulation (3) or identified in terms of sub regulation (5) for an oral interview, which must be conducted in public.”
“In a commitment to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability, the JSC at its meeting of 15 September 2023, resolved to amend the Judicial Service Commission Regulations 2011 as per the provisions of Article 85(3) of the Namibia Constitution, to mandate that interviews of nominated candidates for Judicial office must be conducted in public,” the JSC said in a statement yesterday.
The announcement comes at a time when the public, politicians, and members of the legal fraternity have been demanding transparency from the Judiciary, especially around their processes of appointing judges.
Yesterday, President Hage Geingob took a cautious approach to commenting on an operational decision of the Judiciary. “However, as Head of State, the President welcomes all efforts that are aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability as crucial in our effective governance Architecture. The President always says that without accountability and transparency, the government cannot win the trust of citizens and it is in that vein that the President champions accountability and transparency out of personal conviction but also because it enhances effective governance,” presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani welcomed the development, albeit with reservations.
From where Venaani stands, the Judiciary appears to account to no one, in the absence of transparency.
“The current Judiciary is beyond critique, beyond supervision and can do whatever they want. It is important that when judges are appointed, there is a public scrutiny into their affairs, how they conduct firstly their private lives and secondly, how they view a number of societal issues, their philosophical outlook on society in general and on a number of jurisprudence of cases.
How they would adjudicate them so that society understands the kind of people we live and trust to adjudicate on matters of national interest. Calling for an open interview is one step in the right direction in bringing about a transparent Judiciary,” Venaani stated.
Venaani’s colleague, lawyer, and lawmaker Vipuakuje Muharukua also warmly received the proposition, saying it is a step in the right direction.
“However, the provision gives the JSC the discretionary powers to determine when to hold or not hold public interviews for judges. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. All judges must be interviewed in public,” Muharukua said.
He also called for a wider representation of those conducting the interviews beyond the JSC. “It is also important for us to look at who conducts the interviews. It just can’t be left to the JSC alone. In South Africa, for example, parliamentarians form part of the interview panels. We can also go a step further to include NGOs and other stakeholders, including the ombudsman,” Muharukua said.
Yesterday, AR’s head of legal, Maitjituavi Kavetu expressed the movement’s commitment to ensuring that the JSC upholds the principles of justice and transparency.
“We encourage all stakeholders to actively participate and engage in all upcoming public interviews for the appointment of judges. It is through such transparency and inclusivity that we can strengthen the independence and integrity of our judicial system. The AR movement remains committed to promoting these values and will continue to advocate for a fair and transparent judicial process,” Kavetu said.
This paper also sought views from admitted legal practitioners of the High Court to gauge their views on judicial transparency in the face of the latest news.
One of them is Natjirikasorua Tjirera, who described the Judiciary as one of the most important organs of State, while saying judges are the heartbeat of the Judiciary.
“Their independence and loyalty to their constitution will also be subject to public scrutiny. The reality is that any democratic society will have to be transparent in the appointment of the very people who must breathe life and transparency into its institutions. The move is progressive and should be applauded. Further, one hopes that all senior positions of government will also be subject to public scrutiny,” Tjirera said.
Another lawyer, Nambili Mhata, agreed with Tjirera.
“This move by the JSC is a commendable step towards enhancing transparency within our Judiciary. The decision to conduct oral interviews in a public setting reflects a responsive and progressive approach to governance. A small regret, however, is that the regulation’s language does not mandate all interviews to be public, but it still opens a pathway towards a more transparent selection process,” Mhata said.
The youthful lawyer added that it is crucial, however, that this provision to hold oral interviews in the public domain is not treated as merely optional.
“By opening the interview process to public scrutiny, the Judiciary demonstrates its willingness to engage with and listen to the concerns of the citizenry. This is a clear indication of commendable leadership within our judicial system, showing an atonement to the needs and expectations of the public,” Mhata said.
Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah also gave the Judiciary a pat on the back for the move, saying public interview presentation is a common practise, especially in academia.
“It serves the purpose of providing an opportunity for potential candidates to sell themselves in terms of skills, knowledge, experience and general aptitude. If done right, it can help in selecting the suitable candidate, therefore enhancing recruitment transparency and accountability,” Kamwanyah said.
On his part, political scientist Rui Tyitende emphasised that one of the chief characteristics of the Judiciary in any democratic society is that they are “non-political actors” and impartial in the execution of their duties.
“As an integral component of the State, they should not only be seen as being fair but remove all doubt that their decisions are based on political considerations. Therefore, this development is long overdue as it will enhance confidence and promote our participant political culture. In certain political and legal jurisdictions, there is no pretence of judicial neutrality or impartiality. We should welcome this decision for as long as the Judiciary remains independent and impartial,” Tyitende said.