At its 2015 Annual Conference, the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SACJF), made a firm commitment towards improving both the institutional independence of judiciaries and the decisional independence of judges. The forum noted that one of the key processes which enhances judicial independence is the selection and appointment of judicial officers. To that end it adopted a resolution to:
Establish an ad hoc team of Judicial Service Commissions from the region to work towards developing regional principles and guidelines on selection and appointment of judges in Africa to be presented to the SACJF for discussion and adoption at its 2017 Annual Conference.
The ad hoc working group contemplated by the 2015 resolution drafted the principles and guidelines, drawing on research by the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) of the University of Cape Town, and also taking into account international and regional declarations and instruments relating to judicial appointments.
From its research and consultations, the working group has compiled these principles and guidelines to assist jurisdictions in the development of legislation, policy and practice on the selection and appointment of judicial officers. The overriding purpose of the guiding principles and best practices is to safeguard the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
The working group is cognisant that judicial independence is ensured through the integrity of the selection and appointment process along with security of tenure of judicial officers. This process also enhances public confidence and trust in the administration of justice.
For the purposes of these principles and guidelines, the following terms have been used:
a) “selection and appointment authority” to refer to Judicial Service Commissions, Judicial Appointment Commissions, Supreme Judicial Councils, all or any bodies which may be involved in the selection and appointment of judicial officers.
b) “selection and appointment process” (or the “process”) to refer to the entire process of the recruitment of judicial officers, from the declaration of a vacancy to the final act of appointment of the judicial officer.
c) “appointing authority” to refer to the specific body or person responsible for the appointment of judicial officers.
d) “judicial officers” refers to all persons appointed to perform judicial functions.
e) “appointment” refers to the formal process of appointment of a candidate.
The implementation of the principles and guidelines will take place subject to national law.
This document is structured as follows. Section 2 lists the underlying general principles which inform the specific guidelines, and may serve to provide broad guidance for all aspects of the selection and appointment process. Section 3 then sets out the specific principles and guidelines, accompanied by an explanation of both the principles and guidelines, including descriptions of best practice, based on the underlying research. The guidelines are listed under the relevant underlying principles, although some principles are applicable to multiple guidelines.