Magistrates’ protest ‘unheard of’

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Johannesburg - It is unheard of in South Africa for members of the judiciary to embark on a strike, the Black Lawyers' Association (BLA) said on Wednesday.

“If there is anyone who would appreciate the need for concerted effort for finding amicable solutions to any genuine grievances, magistrates involved in the go-slow would be better placed to appreciate this fact,” BLA president Pritzman Mabunda said in a statement.

“Any action which has the effect of seriously disempowering an arm of government, especially disturbing the dispensing of justice to our citizens, both in civil and criminal proceedings, should be discouraged.”

He urged the striking magistrates to “desist from conduct which has an effect of not distinguishing them from ordinary citizens”.

Earlier, the Judicial Officers' Association of SA (Joasa) said the nationwide protest by magistrates was continuing on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, we haven't had any progress from an engagement point of view. All we are faced with is threats and investigations from every sphere,” said president Nazeem Joemath.

“We wish they could have used the same energy and vigilance to address our problems as they are (in) trying to conduct inquiries.”

Joemath said the magistrates' commission had been in his office conducting an investigation, and had spoken to several people.

He said the magistrates' position had not changed, and if the justice department had not responded to their demands by the end of the week, the protest would escalate.

Justice department spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga was not immediately available for comment.

The office of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng could also not be reached on Wednesday afternoon.

Joemath said on Tuesday that despite what the justice department said, 70 percent of courts had been disrupted countrywide by about 1300 magistrates striking on Monday.

There were disruptions in several district and regional courts in parts of the country on Tuesday, the second day of the protest.

In Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, one magistrate postponed all the cases on his roll, Mogoeng's office said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Pinetown and Madadeni, most cases were postponed, while in Nquthu, criminal courts were carrying out only postponements.

At the Randburg Magistrate's Court, none of the 12 permanently-appointed magistrates, who are supporting the protest, were doing trials.

“They were still reportedly at work and carrying out other judicial functions,” Mogoeng's office said.

Six acting magistrates and the acting heads of the office were assisting with trials.

“In the North West, the magistrates' protest action was limited to courts in Moretele and Odi,” Mogoeng's office said.

On Monday, Mhaga said courts were functioning normally in all nine provinces “with no disruptions”.

Magistrates want a single pay structure for the judiciary, one that would have their salaries and benefits put on the same sliding scale as those of judges.

This could result in their salaries increasing by almost 100 percent.

A dispute over the salary increase forms part of a matter before the Constitutional Court. - Sapa



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