Magistrate in abuse probe sidelined

Johannesburg - A Joburg magistrate has been removed from a criminal court roll and assigned civil matters after prosecutors lodged a complaint against her. They alleged that she was harassing and ill-treating them.

Thirty-six prosecutors lodged a complaint against Hasina Habib of the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, saying they were not prepared to work with her in court 22 because she was “harassing and belittling them in court”.

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As a result, there was a backlog in the court because there were no pro-secutors available to start the trials in court 22. Several high-profile cases, including murder and rape ones, had to be postponed.

However, according to evidence in court two weeks ago, this was because the chief prosecutor, advocate Pumeza Futshane, had beenpurging her staff of senior prosecutors, replacing them with inexperienced juniors who came to court ill-prepared, and this agitated Habib.

Habib decided to hold an inquiry into why there were no prosecutors available to work in her court, which had resulted in indefinite postponements of serious matters.

On Friday, the Magistrates Commission decided to institute a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Habib, after the Gauteng Director of Public Prosecutions, Andrew Chauke, lodged a complaint.

The Ethics Division also asked the Regional Court president to consider Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court Dunstan Mlambo’s proposal that Habib be moved to other courts, pending a conclusion of the Ethics Division’s investigation.

De Villiers Bosman of the Ethics Division suggested that retired senior magistrate DC van Greening be appointed to conduct the investigation into allegations against Habib.

In a petition signed by 36 prosecutors, some accuse Habib of being too strict and a difficult person to work with. One of the prosecutors wrote: “She once called me 'incompetent' in front of a court and forever shouts at me like I am a child.”

Another said: “I don’t have experience and I'm scared of her.”

Habib refused to comment on Wednesday, saying she was not allowed to speak to the media.