Three issues were at the forefront of discussion when the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, attended the AGM of the Judicial Officers Association of South Africa (Joasa) this weekend.

Why was ‘recycling’ approved when acting magistrates had to be appointed, demanded one magistrate from the floor during this weekend’s AGM of the Judicial Officers Association of South Africa (Joasa). Questioning the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, she said in the part of the Western Cape where she worked, ‘we have old, retired magistrates; they are whites who are being re-cycled.’ When they reached a certain age they left their jobs on the assurance that they would be brought back, ‘while we have African sisters who cannot come in’ and could find no way to get experience. ‘It is counter-revolutionary,’ the magistrate said to applause from others attending the meeting.

Several speakers said this was a problem experienced in other parts of the country as well, and that ‘re-cycling’ meant aspirant magistrates were denied opportunities.

A second widely expressed concern was the level of salaries and the ‘flat rate’ of remuneration. One speaker said that when he first started work as a magistrate he earned the same as a magistrate who had been on the bench for 20 years. ‘The new person you (referring to the Minister) appoint in August will earn the same as I do, and I have to help that person. It is too much. Our problems are burning. I am at the coalface of justice. You must prepare a plan to help us.’

There was also a strong message that magistrates were ‘very despondent’ because their workload kept increasing. There was a trend that work that was formerly the province of the high court was now delegated to the regional courts. ‘There is a high volume of extra work. We cannot manage. We are not coping.’

The Minister responded that he would take up the issue of widespread ‘re-cycling’ with the deputy minister who was formally responsible for approving temporary appointments. The question of the additional work delegated to magistrates was another issue to be discussed: ‘How do we ease the burden on the people already in the system?’.

There had been a consensus when black magistrates started being appointed, that a flat rate in salaries would be fairer for new comers. Now, however, the policy should be debated, with discussion on whether a change was warranted.

‘The first interaction of anyone with the justice system is through the magistrates courts. How do we improve that experience?’ Lamola thanked the magistrates, not just for the role they were playing as judicial officers. ‘You may not be aware but in the communities where you come from, you are important, inspirational people. If you go back to the village or township where you come from, in the past there would be no one who studied law. But because of you, now you will find there are 10 or 15 people studying law. It shows the impact you can make.’

  • Legalbrief, 28 July 2019