South African judge underlines importance of independent judiciary in Dublin speech

Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron
Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron

A leading South African judge visiting Dublin has underlined the key role of an independent judiciary for the rule of law and the protection of constitutional rights.

Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron spoke at the 10th Annual Dave Ellis Memorial Lecture hosted by legal rights group FLAC last night.

At the same event, FLAC chairperson Peter Ward SC voiced concern about attacks on the Irish judiciary by Government ministers.

In his lecture, Justice Cameron, who is a gay man living with HIV, recounted how South Africa has changed from an apartheid legal system that excluded, subordinated and humiliated most South Africans to one that is built on the opposite ideals.

Introducing the judge, Mr Ward said he was “an inspiration to all of us who believe in the central and vital role of an independent judiciary in a constitutional democracy as something to be valued and protected”.

Addressing the meeting, Justice Cameron said: “The story is how a legal system calculated to thwart access to justice is evolving into one designed to secure it and to safeguard human dignity and basic human rights, with increasing social justice for all.

“An important part of that story is how non-governmental legal service organisations - like FLAC - played a crucial part in the transition and still do.”

Peter Ward SC
Peter Ward SC

Speaking later, Mr Ward expressed grave concern at comments made by Transport Minister Shane Ross about the judiciary, which he said were gratuitously offensive and factually incorrect.

Mr Ross accused judges of resisting reforms because judges could not be trusted not to forget their oath, of being “masters of delay”, of leading “charmed lives” and living in a protected citadel.

Mr Ward said he was worried by “the attempt to validate, at the highest political level, offensive and undermining remarks about another pillar of government which can only serve to undermine it in the public eye”.

He added: “We must be willing to reassert the central role in our institutions of state of an independent judiciary who must be recognised and supported as such.

“We depend on them to play the vital role accorded to them under our Constitution and they must be free, independent and fearless in that role. We must also be willing to speak out in defence of these core principles and value when they are under attack.”

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