Davis was admitted as an advocate in 1990 and took silk in 2006. He obtained BCom and LLB degrees from the University of Pretoria and an LLM from the University of South Africa. He has served as a chairperson of the Pretoria Bar. Davis has accumulated over 60 reported judgments over several acting stints
Before October 2017, he had twice previously appeared before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for a position at the Gauteng High Court — in 2015 and 2016.
In previous interviews his serving in the South African Airforce during the ultra-violent 1980s had proved a stumbling block for Davis. In 2016 he said “he perceived, at the time, that the law was about protecting the country” and that he felt it correct at the time, although “it was unjust in how we went outside our borders and committed what we did”.
October 2017 Interview:
October 2017 – Interview Synopsis
Sometimes personal blind-spots reveal themselves in trying circumstances — for Advocate Norman Davis SC it came during his job interview.
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe asked Davis if racism still existed in the country and in the judiciary. If this was the case, Hlophe continued, then why?
Davis responded: “I have never seen or experienced any racism” in the Gauteng High Court sitting in Pretoria. Hlophe swiftly enquired whether Judge Mabel Jansen, who was involved in a highly publicised social media racism incident, had not sat on the Pretoria Bench, before her subsequent resignation? Davis conceded that she did.
Later, Justice Minister Michael Masutha expressed his concern about the candidate’s “emphatic response to the existence or otherwise” of racism in the division. “Does it have to be displayed to you for it to exist?” asked Masutha.
Davis said, “Perhaps I put her and her conduct out of my mind and did not remember it”. He then went into detail about the attempts he had made to meet, head-on, the opposition to transformation he had encountered in the legal profession while chairperson of the Pretoria Bar.
Asked by attorney Sifiso Msomi which of the recent Constitutional Court judgments stood out for him, Davis said several, but settled on a matter involving the Bakgetla community in the North West province where issues around the rights of community organisations, versus those of traditional authorities, had been tested.
Davis considered this an “important development of law” with regard to the “interpretation of statutes”, in that “when we interpret any act, our point of departure should be a purposive interpretation of that act in terms often values of the Constitution”.
October 2016 interview:
October 2016 – Interview synopsis:
Easing Davis into his interview, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asked him about the use of Afrikaans in arguments and drafting judgments — and the time delay it may cause for practitioners and judges for whom it is not a first language. Davis suggested more translations and using English as a universal language in courts.
Gauteng Judge President Dustan Mlambo probed Davis on the challenges experienced in the various courts he has acted in. Davis pinpointed dealing with “a large volume of matters in short periods” in unopposed courts, the challenge of delving into legal intricacies of matters in the opposed courts and that the civil courts were “almost the easiest” since the matters developed during trials.
Language, and especially knowledge of indigenous languages, has emerged as a strong theme in this round of interviews and commissioner Jomo Nyambi asked whether Davis had a working knowledge of any — aside from being able to greet, not really, Davis responded. He later admitted after a particularly brutal line of questioning from Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema that he would certainly be making a greater effort to learn an African language.
Nyambi also probed Davis on the role of gender, race and language in legitimising the judiciary in the public’s view. Davis agreed that a more diverse judiciary reflective of the country’s demographics, would be more legitimate to litigants and also enable a “broader consideration” of nuances when adjudicating matters.
Responding to commissioner Thoko Didiza’s questions about the challenges of transforming the Bar, Davis said the “retention of female advocates was difficult” which led to high attrition rates in the sector and, likewise, it was “difficult to get them to apply for senior status”.
Malema, always as blunt as a cricket bat, picked up on an earlier comment about his doing national service during apartheid, asked Davis why he had agreed to conscription into the apartheid-era South African National defense Force rather than becoming a conscientious objector or “picking up an AK47” as Joe Slovo and others had done.
Davis said “he perceived at the time that the law was about protecting the country” and that he felt it correct at the time, although “it was unjust in how we went outside our borders and committed what we did”.
Malema continued to bludgeon Davis like cricketer Quinton de Kock on his way to a quickfire century, with questions about his response that apartheid-era laws calling for mandatory conscription was correct. Davis eventually conceded that this was, in fact, unjust and not correct.
Other themes traversed during the interview included the briefing patterns of government, thoughts on how government was faring in litigation and the separation of powers doctrine.