The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was established in terms of section 178 of the South African Constitution and is regulated by the Judicial Service Commission Act 9 of 1994. The JSC plays a central advisory role in the selection of judges, as well as in the receipt and adjudication of complaints about judges.

The JSC is designed to play a crucial role in South Africa’s constitutional democracy, through ensuring the quality and independence of its judiciary.

The Helen Suzman Foundation’s litigation in respect of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) sought transparency in the process by which judges are selected. The catalyst for the litigation was a 2012 decision by the JSC to recommend certain candidates to be appointed as judges in the Western Cape Division of the High Court. The effect of the decision was to overlook certain well qualified candidates. This caused the HSF to launch a review of the 2012 decision.

However, the JSC was determined to keep secret its deliberations about the decision, effectively blocking the HSF’s review. What ensued was a six-year long court battle, in which the HSF sought, successfully in the end, to compel the JSC to release its private deliberations. The HSF’s successful litigation in this matter has laid the foundations for a transparent judicial selection process going forward.

The HSF’s joined proceedings against the Magistrate’s Commission as a ‘friend of the court’ (amicus curiae), when Mr Richard Lawrence approached the High Court to challenge the lawfulness of his being excluded from consideration as a permanent magistrate on the sole ground of his race. Mr Lawrence was successful before the High Court and again before the Supreme Court of Appeal, after the Commission appealed against the High Court’s decision.