Former Constitutional Court Justice Arthur Chaskalson has died. Leaving behind him a formidable legacy. Hon. Chaskalson was also part of the legal defence team that defended Nelson Mandela and his cohorts at the Rivonia Trial. Chaskalson was also instrumental in the negotiations leading to the namibian and South African constitutions. He was the first President of the constitutional court and thereafter known as Chief Justice. It is well known that Chaskalson and Mr Mandela were well acquainted, this however did not weigh on his duty while Judge President of the constitutional court. In response to a letter from Dr Botha in President of RSA v SARFU he responded to political innuendos referring to his relationship with President Mandela: “I have received your letter of 13 April. I will refrain from making any comment concerning the apparent purpose of the letter, or the innuendos implicit in what it says.
If the case has political overtones that is of no concern to the Court. Its duty is to decide the case in accordance with the law and the evidence and that is what it will do. The suggestion that your client has reason to believe that because he and Mr Mandela are leaders of political parties, and because the judges of this Court have been appointed by Mr Mandela, he might not get a fair hearing, and that under those circumstances members of this [C]ourt might not be able objectively and impartially to adjudicate on the credibility of the President, is improper and without substance.
The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the land. Its members were appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the procedures prescribed by it. They are obliged to discharge their duties without fear, favour or prejudice – a duty which, since their appointment, they have performed. There is no basis for the slander of the Court contained in your letter.
If a judge considers that because of a personal relationship with a litigant, or for any other reason, he or she is unable to adjudicate on a matter impartially, such judge is under a duty to recuse himself or herself. The judges of this Court are well aware of this duty.”
With a swift stroke of the pen he made clear the mandate of the constitutional court and its judges and that of all presiding officers of the court around the country.
May he rest in peace.