Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe has urged that judicial officers should be given greater security as their lives are often at risk. Speaking last night at the opening function of the African bloc of the International Association of Judges (IAJ) meeting taking place in Cape Town this week, he said judges and magistrates were no less vulnerable than politicians.


(Nicole Koech and Hope Miriti, Kenyan interns with the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, enjoy the opening function after all their hard work helping with preparations for the conference)

An inadequate or complete lack of security for judicial officers in court and at home was “a huge area of concern” and there had been “numerous incidents” where the lives of judicial officers had been threatened. He also listed magistrates who had been killed, wounded and threatened in the line of duty, as well as incidents that had taken place in court as a result of inadequate security, including the recent lockdown of the High Court in Cape Town when judgment was passed by a judicial officer whose life had been threatened.

The conference, hosted by the Judicial Officers Association of South Africa (Joasa), is being attended by judicial officers (judges and magistrates) from 23 African countries, ranging from Algeria to Zimbabwe. The focus is on safeguarding the independence and conditions of service of judicial officers, with special concern for ensuring security of tenure and for maintaining conditions of service and constitutionally-mandated protection for the selection and appointment of judicial officers.

During the opening dinner, Judge Hlophe and Cape Town’s chief magistrate, Daniel Thulare, the president of Joasa, made clear their concern that South Africa should have a “single judiciary”. Judge Hlophe said the institutional independence of the SA judiciary – as opposed to the magistracy – was clear: judges were independent in that they fell under the Office of the Chief Justice, created relatively recently to take judges out of the government’s Department of Justice.

He said it was a “nightmare” to have two sets of judicial officers, one under the Chief Justice and the other under the Department of Justice and he hoped “all judicial officers” would soon fall under the Chief Justice.

As for judicial independence and working conditions in the broader sense, he urged that security of judicial officers and their support staff should be addressed without delay. Some courts were “over-resourced” compared to others, so that each member of the Constitutional Court had three law researchers whereas the 35 judges of the high court in the Western Cape shared just five researchers between them.

Judges’ pay would also have an impact on transformation, he warned. To attract good lawyers to the bench, “judges must be well paid”, but as long as the budget came from central government politicians would continue to get the “lion’s share”, while “we get the hyena’s share”, he quipped.

By contrast, political analyst Somadoda Fikeni warned against judges being “tempted”, and warned they should not be “obsessed” by material things. “If every day you are thinking (about) money and material things that is crass materialism and opens you to temptation.”

In a pre-conference interview, Tulare said the Africa region conference report would be presented at the IAJ meeting in Kazakhstan during September, after which programmes for lobbying on the various issues identified across all the continents would be drawn up. He anticipated that one of the issues that would emerge during this week was the difficult situation in Lesotho where magistrates are on strike, the chief justice has been suspended and the highest court is not sitting.

Among those participating in the conference is the Chief Justice of Botswana, Terence Rannowane and the acting Chief Justice of Lesotho, Maseforo Mahase.

Among those supporting the conference is the publishing company Juta, the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit and the Judicial Institute for Africa, both based at the University of Cape Town.