S.African chief justice to step down from extended term

27th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's justice minister said Wednesday that the country's chief justice will step down after withdrawing from an extended term that sparked a legal challenge on the limits of presidential power.

"The chief justice of the Republic of South Africa, Sandile Ngcobo, has informed President (Jacob) Zuma that he wishes to withdraw his acceptance of the extension of the term of his office, which expires on August 14, 2011," Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told reporters.

"The chief justice said he had taken this decision in order to protect the integrity of the office of the chief justice and the esteem of the judiciary as a whole."

Zuma had asked Ngcobo, who heads the highest court in the land, to stay in office for five more years after his approaching retirement date next month.

The Harvard-educated judge accepted the extension last month, but a collection of legal rights groups challenged the decision in the Constitutional Court, which Ngcobo was appointed to head in 2009.

The applicants did not dispute Ngcobo's qualifications for the job, but argued that Zuma had overreached his constitutional powers in reappointing him without parliament's permission.

"Chief Justice Ngcobo said he found it undesirable for a chief justice to be a party in litigation involving the question of whether or not he should continue to hold office, as this distracts from the integrity of the office of the chief justice and the esteem with which it is held," said Radebe.

He said Zuma would immediately start the process of appointing a new top judge.

"On August 15, there will be a new chief justice in office," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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