South Africa could face "a grave constitutional crisis" that could leave judges considering whether they should "continue on the bench", the Durban High Court said on Monday.
Dismissing an appeal by the Department of Correctional Services against an execution order expediting anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment at Durban's Westville prison, Judge Chris Nicholson said: "If the government of the Republic of South Africa has given such an instruction [not to comply with the execution order] then we face a grave constitutional crisis involving a serious threat to the doctrine of the separation of powers.
"Should that continue the members of the judiciary will have to consider whether their oath of office requires them to continue on the bench."
Meanwhile, the health department said on Friday that the appeal was a "matter of principle".
"It is not about [government] refusing to give people treatment," said director-general of the health department Thamsanqa Mseleku.
He said the issue was whether a court should be able to determine an aspect of government policy.
"Then what is the point of policy? If we find a facility does not meet the criteria for implementation [of an ARV treatment site] should we implement simply because a court says so?"