Hoping to fill either the Judge President or Deputy Judge President position, Judge Cecile Williams would have a clear idea of the challenges facing the courts in this sparsely populated province where unemployment and the attendant problems of alcohol abuse, crime, gambling and violence are rife — she has served as a judge there since 2003.
In 2013 Williams was called on to decide whether gambling machines should be returned to people suspected of conducting illegal gambling activities after their confiscation based on invalid search and seizure warrants.
In scanning the jurisprudence to decide Daniel Visagie T/A Prieska Entertainment Centre v Minister of Safety and Security and Others, Williams noted that while the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) had ordered the “unqualified restoration of machines” in a 2012 matter, a differently constituted Bench of that court had come to another conclusion a year later. The more recent matter had yet to be decided by the Constitutional Court.
Williams held that “[t]he words ‘judgment or order’ when referred to in section 20 of the Supreme Court Act, which deals with appeals, is said to be used in the restrictive sense of the “pronouncement of the disposition” upon relief claimed. … This being the case, the ‘suspension’ of the ‘judgment or order’ pending appeal can only relate to the judgment or order in its restrictive sense and does not affect the ratio decidendi or reasons for the decision. High Courts are obliged to follow legal interpretations of the SCA and remain so obliged unless and until the SCA itself decides otherwise or the Constitutional Court does so in respect of a Constitutional issue.”
She duly set aside the warrants and ordered the return of all goods the applicants were lawfully entitled to possess — these did not include the gambling machines.
Earlier this year Williams awarded damages for negligence against the provincial health department, on the merits of the case, after a botched operation left a medical patient at a Northern Cape hospital with foreign objects left behind in her body.
Williams had to weigh the value of evidence given by medical experts on both sides of the argument and she demonstrated sound reasoning in dismissing those the state advanced.
Williams holds a BA and LLB from the University of the Western Cape and a Diploma in Advanced International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute at the University of Lund in Sweden. A fellow at the Legal Resources Centre, Williams worked as an advocate from 1991-2003 before being appointed to the Northern Cape High Court. She had previously acted in the Western Cape High Court. She will be simultaneously interviewed for both positions of Judge President and Deputy Judge President.