Current Position: Judge at the Western Cape Division of the High Court
Western Cape High Court Judge Owen Rogers appears as adept with the violin and piano as he is with the law, according to his supporters.
Previously unsuccessful when interviewed for judicial appointment, which drew condemnation from the sections of the legal fraternity who considered him one of the country’s top senior counsel, he was eventually appointed in 2012.
Rogers has been acting at the Supreme Court of Appeal since 2017. In Road Accident Fund v Mohohlo the appellate court was asked to decide whether damages for loss of support was due to the “aunt” of the deceased, who had cared for him from a young age.
Noting that there was precedent for extending the “claims for loss of support to persons who do not fall within categories recognised by the common law” Rogers (with the rest of the Bench concurring) held that it was necessary to consider the values underpinning the Constitution, including ubuntu. He found that in terms of Section 211(3) of the Constitution, “the court must apply customary law when that law was applicable, subject to the Constitution and any legislation that specifically deals with customary law”.
Rogers held that whilst no expert evidence as to customary law had been led, “the plaintiff testified as to what was required by her culture and her evidence was not put in issue. It may well be that, once she agreed to care for Otsepeng [her nephew] following family consultation, she had by customary law a legal duty to support him but it is unnecessary to go so far. On her evidence, she at least felt under a duty to do so. She started caring for him when he was still an infant and continued to maintain him until he became self-supporting.
Her behaviour, and the way Otsepeng reciprocated when he became an adult, gave expression to ubuntu. For all practical purposes the plaintiff adopted him, even though according to her there was no formal process of adoption in her culture. The de facto relationship between them was that of mother and child. This de facto relationship was every bit as real as the de facto life partnerships which our courts have accepted as giving rise to reciprocal duties of support.”
Rogers held that it would be consistent with the legal convictions of the community to recognise a reciprocal duty of support between the plaintiff and Otsepeng. The appeal was dismissed with costs.
Rogers has experience in competition law and was appointed to the Competition Appeal Court in 2016. During his interview before the JSC, Rogers described himself as a “very diligent person” who “prepares thoroughly” for cases and is “unfailingly courteous as a judge”. He also listed a willingness to “engage” parties, his collegiality and prompt delivery of judgments as other personal attributes worth mentioning.
One case at the court involved a bid by construction company Group Five, to have complete access to the Competition Tribunal’s investigation record into their alleged collusion with other companies before preparing its answering papers.
Rogers, with two other judges concurring, found that disputes relating to “legally privileged” or “confidential” documents would have to be resolved by a process separate from Group Five’s obligations to file its papers. Stating that both parties had misunderstood their obligations, he ordered them to pay their own costs.
In a 2013 High Court ruling which declared the Department of Home Affair’s closure of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office unlawful, Rogers was mindful of the administrative effects it would have on asylum-seekers attempting to apply for, or renew, their permits.
He further noted that the office’s closure would affect refugees’ job security, family life and open them up to further persecution by the state security apparatus.
In Gaertner and Others v Minister of Finance and Others, he declared the sections of the Customs and Excise Act which allowed South African Revenue Services (SARS) personnel to search an individual’s premises without a search warrant, unlawful.
Rogers found that the impugned provisions did not make the “necessary” distinctions “between routine and non-routine searches and between designated and non-designated premises nor do they provide appropriate guidance as to how permissible warrantless searches should be conducted.” The Constitutional Court later confirmed his findings.
Appointed to the Western Cape High Court in 2012, Rogers has Cape Town in his blood: he matriculated from Wynberg Boys High School in 1976 and graduated from the University of Cape Town with a BA in 1982, an Honours in Classics in 1983 and an LLB in 1985.
Rogers joined the Cape Bar in 1988 and was conferred Silk 11 years later. He has written critically of the institution of silk status, stating that it drove up legal fees, making justice inaccessible to the poor.
April 2019 Interview:
April 2019 Interview Synopsis:
Some members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) become visibly insecure when very smart people are being interviewed — a defense mechanism that often reveals more about the interviewers, than those seeking jobs.
The interview of Western Cape High Court Judge Owen Rogers was one such interview.
On the toxic situation at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), Rogers said he generally found it a “welcoming” place but that a quite senior judge had talked to him in a manner which was “very rude” while hearing a case, and that this “unsettled me for a few days”.
SCA President Madisa Maya said a vox pop of judges at the appeals court threw up observations which included that Rogers was “difficult to work with”, he was “not a team player… who swam upstream,” was “arrogant” and “tended to pay slavishly attention too foreign authorities” when looking for precedent in considering a case.
Rogers said he was “saddened” if that was the impression created since he had a “genuine love of the law with a strong work ethic…perhaps they see my passion as being difficult”. But Rogers was unapologetic in his approach to his work, saying he would not stop being rigorous: “One should not dumb down.”
“I don’t see myself as arrogant, if that is how I come across, it is something that I shall seek to remedy,” he told the commission.
Rogers has written several articles (see profile) and he was tested on his ambivalence to the practice of senior advocates being conferred silk, his role in transformation of the Cape Bar while he practiced there and whether age was an impediment to his being appointed.
October 2016 Interview:
October 2016 Interview synopsis:
Western Cape High Court judge Owen Rogers gained experience in competition law as a lawyer — almost an anomaly for judges serving at the Competition Appeal Court, according to its president, Judge Dennis Davis.
If appointed (as seems likely after his nomination by the Judicial Servoce Commission), he would bring this “specialised expertise” to the job, Rogers told the Judicial Service Commission.
Asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng why he should be appointed to the court, Rogers list also included being a “very diligent person” who “prepares thoroughly” for cases, having acting “unfailingly courteous as a judge” in court and his willingness to “engage” parties, his collegiality and prompt delivery of judgments.
In a rare moment of drilling down into jurisprudential values, Davis asked Rogers how he related economics and law, which come together most critically in the Competition Appeal Court.
Rogers lamented the fact that rather than dealing with substantive issues, more procedural matters were coming to the court. He also bemoaned the constraints placed on the Competition Appeal Court by the interpretations of some key legal terms in other countries, where the jurisprudence was more developed.
A known opponent to the legal fraternity’s practise of conferring silk — through the “co-option” of the president — on advocates, Rogers used it as an example to further describe his economic theory, stating that “market forces” should determine the rates charged by advocates.