A judge of the Eastern Cape division of the high court since 2010, Smith had spent the twelve years preceding serving several acting stints. He had been a director at Smith Tabata Inc Attorneys from 1996-20010. he had also served as chairperson of the Eastern Cape Housing Board (1997-1999) and as an ANC member of the Eastern Cape provincial legislature from 1994-1995.
Smith obtained a BA from the University of the Western Cape, and LLB from Rhodes University and a Diploma in Labour Law from the University of Cape Town.
Judge John Smith said that he had initially been “cynical” of the case-flow management system initiated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, but that he had been convinced of its efficacy after being deployed by Eastern Cape Judge President Themba Sangoni to sit on the national Case-flow Management Task Team.
“A judge walking into a court at 9.30 in the morning must walk into a functioning court,” said Smith. He said that making practical, everyday changes to the functioning of the courts, like ensuring the accused are transported to and from prison timeously would assist in the finalisation of cases. Smith also identified the Mthatha courts as having the biggest problems with regard to backlogs and a lack of resources.
He said that gender and race transformation of the judiciary needed to be approached strategically to “ensure that there is a pool of competent lawyers appearing in the high court and doing substantive cases” because black and women judges don’t emerge “from the woodwork”.
When asked what he had done, as an attorney, to transform the legal fraternity, Smith said he had briefed several several black advocates, including the late Chief Justice Pius Langa and Constitutional Court Justice Thembile Skweyiya before they were appointed to the Bench.
He was later asked by acting Supreme Court of Appeal President Mandisa Maya if he had briefed black female advocates at the time and Smith, stretching his mind, remembered one. Maya then observed that she had been practising as an advocate in Mthatha over that period and remembered the large volume of work his firm did there, but not being briefed by it. Smith said he remembered his partner attempting to brief her once but could not remember why this did not happen.