MORE than half of the candidates to be interviewed in April for appointment as judges are women, the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC’s) short list shows.

The women-heavy list is a moment of triumph for the JSC, which in recent months has faced a barrage of criticism about the slow pace of appointment of women judges — especially as not a single woman was nominated for the Constitutional Court.

The percentage of women on South Africa’s bench is still only 28%.

But in April, when the JSC will interview candidates for the Supreme Court of Appeal and several high courts, 14 of the 23 candidates will be women.

A record two female candidates have been short-listed for deputy judge president of the North Gauteng High Court: Judge Cynthia Pretorius and Judge Mpho Molopa-Sethosa.

There is at present only one female judge president, North West High Court Judge President Monica Leeuw, and one female deputy judge president, the Western Cape High Court’s Judge Jeanette Traverso.

The other candidate for the position of deputy judge president of the North Gauteng High Court is Judge Aubrey Ledwaba. Of the three candidates, he is the longest serving, having been appointed in November 2005.

Judge Pretorius was appointed in May 2006 and Judge Molopa-Sethosa in October 2006.

Longevity on the bench traditionally has been the main basis upon which a judge president had been chosen. But demographic considerations and administrative skills have increasingly become important factors — especially in the busy courts such as the North Gauteng High Court.

When Judge Willem van der Merwe was appointed as deputy judge president of the North Gauteng High Court in 2010, it was ahead of an African female candidate, Judge Lucy Mailula. But while Judge van der Merwe impressed during his interview by telling the Judicial Service Commission that he started work at 6am, and by providing facts and figures on the intense workload at the Pretoria court, Judge Mailula faced tough questioning on her outstanding judgments.

The JSC will also be interviewing three candidates for two vacancies on the Supreme Court of Appeal — Eastern Cape High Court Judge Clive Plasket and South Gauteng High Court judges Halima Salduker and Nigel Willis.

Judge Salduker is the only female candidate, making her a strong contender. However, Judge Plasket is also a favourite. He was overlooked last year amid some muttering in the legal fraternity as he was considered to be a clear frontrunner.

Western Cape High Court judge and Competition Appeal Court Judge President Dennis Davis is the only candidate to be interviewed for judge president of the Competition Appeal Court and is therefore likely to be reappointed.

Other candidates for appointment as judges are:

• For one vacancy at the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho: Ms XB Bacela, Adv CTS Cossie, Adv E Crouse, Mr PP Majeke and Ms B Ndzondo.

• For four vacancies at the North and South Gauteng high courts: Adv AJ Bam SC, Ms W Hughes, Ms NV Khumalo, Mr BA Mashile, Ms DS Molefe, Ms SS Mphahlele, Mr VRSN Nkosi, Ms L Windell and Adv GC Wright SC.

Of the nine candidates for the Gauteng courts, only two are advocates.

In previous rounds of interviews, South Gauteng Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo bemoaned the paucity of counsel, especially from the Johannesburg bar, willing to make themselves available for positions on the bench.