Notes: ‘Observations’ on the State Capture judgment
Author: Michael Tsele
Affiliations: Member of the Cape and Johannesburg Bars
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 138 Issue 3, p. 477-500
This note concerns a controversial issue that has, surprisingly, received limited academic interrogation: whether the Public Protector has the power to instruct the President of South Africa to appoint a commission of inquiry. In this respect, I critique a high court decision which answered the question in the affirmative. I contend that the judgment contradicts prior case law, including Constitutional Court precedent. Thus, I argue that the court misconstrued the law on the President’s powers, particularly when it concluded that those powers are not purely discretionary but entail ‘responsibilities’ which are ‘coupled with a duty’. This reasoning led the court to conclude that the President thus has a constitutional ‘obligation’ to appoint a commission. In summary, I take issue with the court’s conclusion that the Public Protector has the power to instruct the President to appoint a commission of inquiry. I conclude that the decision caused uncertainty on the limitations of the Public Protector’s powers. I further say it is questionable whether the commission, better known as the ‘State Capture’ commission, was established lawfully.