IT IS common cause that advocate Jeremy Gauntlett is a brilliant legal mind. Yet, despite that, he has just lost a fifth bid for judicial appointment, this time to fill a vacancy on the Constitutional Court.
It is instructive that Mr Gauntlett did not even make the short list of four candidates sent to President Jacob Zuma to choose from. He was excluded after a short meeting of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), after which Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said he was sure it was the correct decision, despite the fact that it would be unpopular.
Given that the Constitutional Court, indeed also the high courts and the Supreme Court of Appeal, deliberate on issues crucial to the country and to the individuals who appear in them, it makes sense to appoint the very best legal minds to them. This would suggest something else was at play in the JSC when Mr Gauntlett was overlooked, because not even his detractors dispute that his qualifications for the position are impeccable.
There has been speculation that a remark Mr Gauntlett made during a newspaper interview lies behind the decision: he said he was not called by God to become a judge, which was seen as a slight against Judge Mogoeng, who has said the opposite. It is a shame if Mr Gauntlett’s legal acumen has been lost to our top court due to a personality clash.
There was significant support for his nomination, including from Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille and academic-turned-politician Mamphela Ramphele. It is also possible the nature of this support counted against him in a JSC dominated by ruling-party sympathisers.
The way in which Mr Gauntlett has been passed over is reminiscent of the way Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke was overlooked when a new chief justice was chosen. It is accepted that Judge Moseneke has a brilliant legal mind and is one of the Constitutional Court’s most gifted jurists. It seemed inconceivable that he would not take over when Judge Sandile Ngcobo retired as chief justice.
But Judge Moseneke is no favourite of the ruling party, so Judge Mogoeng got the job.
In the absence of any other rational explanation, it seems clear that the decision to exclude Mr Gauntlett was motivated by the kind of petty politics this skills-starved country can ill afford.