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Court: Reconsider magistrates’ salaries

Pretoria - The High Court in Pretoria has ordered President Jacob Zuma to reconsider the 2010 salary increases of the country’s regional magistrates and regional court presidents.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann granted an order to the Association of Regional Magistrates on Monday, setting aside Zuma’s decision to increase their salaries by five percent with effect from April 1, 2010.

Three customary wives have taken their tussle over the body and burial of their dead husband to a Pretoria court. Credit: Independent Newspapers

He referred the decision back to Zuma for reconsideration, but ordered that the increases remain in force until the president had taken the decision afresh.

Bertelsmann found Zuma had failed to comply with the statutory requirement to consider the public office bearers’ particular role, status, function, duties and responsibilities prior to determining an appropriate salary increase.

This rendered his decision unlawful and irrational. The magistrates maintained the decision was contrary to a seven percent increase recommended by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers.

It did not differentiate between the various classes of public office bearers, but applied a uniform increase across the board for all public servants.

It further failed to take into account the extreme disparities between the salary packages of magistrates and high court judges.

Bertelsmann said the commission was obliged to make recommendations on salaries and benefits that would protect judicial officers' independence by ensuring an adequate level of financial security.

This was important because judges and magistrates could neither negotiate directly with the executive, nor resort to industrial action if they were dissatisfied.

He referred to the considerable workload of regional magistrates because of recent expansions of their jurisdiction to impose life imprisonment, together with newly-conferred civil jurisdiction.

“It is common cause that the regional courts form the backbone of the criminal justice system in the Republic. The court can take judicial notice of the fact that they are continuously faced with overcrowded rolls and experience many administrative and other challenges,” he said.

He found the uniform increases exacerbated the existing unfairness of the regional magistrates’ and regional court presidents’ remuneration.

The commission’s one-size-fits-all recommendation adopted by Zuma, but on a reduced level, clearly did not appreciate the circumstances of the regional magistrates, Bertelsmann said.

In a well-motivated memorandum they explained that the failure to consider their particular circumstances might see them fall further behind other public office bearers if no particular provision was made for them. - Sapa

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