Senior advocates may rest easy: the Constitutional Court has ruled that they wear their Silk status quite legitimately.
Or at least, for the moment they may rest easy. For Justice Bess Nkabinde, writing on behalf of a unanimous court, made it plain that the only issue at stake was whether the President’s power to confer ‘honours’ included the power to grant Silk to suitable advocates.
‘It must be acknowledged at the outset,’ she said, ‘that this case is not about whether the institution of silk or SC status is good or bad, or whether it is worthy of protection. Nor is it about the merits of (Mansingh)’s own unsuccessful application for SC status.’
Which sentence pretty much explains all the background that a casual reader needs to know. Mansingh, a member of the Bar of England and Wales, applied for SC status in South Africa and, when she was unsuccessful, began a series of challenges to the validity of the status she had sought. First she won in the North Gauteng High Court, but that was followed by defeat in the Supreme Court of Appeal, and today by a unanimous rejection of her argument by the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court waded through the meanings of ‘honours’, the rights of the head of state and the powers traditionally exercised by the throne. Its conclusion was that, at least as far as the President is concerned, the definition of ‘honours’ is broad enough to encompass the status of Silk.
If you check the parties in the Constitutional Court you’ll notice that Mansingh appears to have challenged some powerful interests – the General Council of the Bar, the Johannesburg Society of Advocates, the President of the Republic of South Africa, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Independent Association of Advocates of South Africa and the Law Society of South Africa.
Maybe, given today’s clear rejection of her argument Mansingh, may give up on further challenge even one in which she uses a slightly different argument; perhaps she might even try for SC status again herself. Who knows?