Cape Town - A magistrate who allowed her personal interests to interfere with an eviction judgment, has resulted in the case being remitted to a district court to be heard fresh by a new presiding officer.
According to a finding by Western Cape High Court Judge Ashley Binns Ward, acting magistrate Venice Burgins erred in her judgment concerning the eviction, after she shared social media posts “that it was a matter of personal concern to her”.
According to the judgment and record, Burgins was adjudicating over an eviction application made by Communicare against occupiers of an apartment in Brooklyn.
Burgins dismissed, with costs, the eviction application made by Communicare.
Judge Binns-Ward, said: “The matter was not an issue on the papers in the eviction application, but it is evident from her social media posts that it was a matter of personal concern to her extra-curricularly.
“Her mentioning of it in the judgment illustrates that (Burgins) brought her personal causes concerning Communicare into her adjudication of the case.
“She also referred in her judgment to an online report dated 23 July 2019 that she found on the iol.co.za website ‘that the Social Housing Regulatory Authority (SHRA) was going to probe Communicare after receiving complaints from residents about financial disbursements and the transfer of properties’.
“She noted ‘(t)he status of this important investigation is unclear and unknown despite government’s announcement of it, through SHRA, more than three years ago’.
“There was no evidential basis for this reference in the case before her.
“It is, however, evident from the social media excerpts quoted earlier that Burgins had a personal interest in these matters and had apparently even been involved in lobbying politically about them,” said Judge Binns-Ward with Judge Nobahle Mangcu Lockwood concurring.
Judge Binns-Ward further said that the matter before Burgins had “unjustified involvement of them in her adjudication of the case”.
Responding to the ruling made in the high court, Communicare chief executive officer Anthea Houston said: “It is shocking that a magistrate has been found to have allowed her personal bias to influence her ruling.
“Thankfully, the integrity of our judicial system is intact and protects us from those who abuse their office to pursue personal agendas regardless of the facts before the court.
“Such actions only serve to impede access to the affordable and social housing solutions that we provide for those in need.
“Communicare continues to maintain confidence in our legal system’s ability to administer fair and impartial justice through due legal process.”
Attempts to gain comment from Burgins were unsuccessful by deadline on Thursday.