Johannesburg - The impartiality of the judiciary would be at risk if public disagreements between magistrates and government continued, lawyers warned on Tuesday.

“As a cornerstone of our constitutional democracy no element of the judiciary should put its impartiality at risk,” the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) said.

“The independence of the judiciary will be negatively affected by overt expressions of discord between the magistracy and other arms of government.”

Nadel spokeswoman Nokukhanya Jele said though all people were entitled to fair labour practices, the judiciary played a unique role in the constitutional dispensation.

Magistrates should take into consideration their obligations to society.

“The magistracy is enjoined to use existing structures and institutions at their disposal in order to address concerns with respect to salaries and employment benefits,” said Jele.

Some 1300 magistrates began striking on Monday. They 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 see their salaries increase by almost 100 percent. The dispute over the salary increase forms part of a matter before the Constitutional Court.

Earlier, the Office of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng called on striking magistrates to rethink their actions, as there could be consequences.

“We... call on any magistrate that might still be thinking that the strike action... is the route to go; to reconsider their actions and take up their grievances through existing and official channels,” his office said in a statement.

“We further reiterate that any strike action by any judicial officer would be ill-advised and could yield undesirable consequences.”

Spokeswoman for the office, Lulama Luti, said there were no major disruptions in the majority of courts monitored throughout the country on Monday. There were only a few isolated incidents.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Officers' Association of SA (Joasa) said the nationwide protest continued on Tuesday.

Joasa president Nazeem Joemath said it needed a response from the justice department by the end of the week.

“We want meaningful engagement and so far we are not getting that,” he said.

If the justice department had not responded to their demands by the end of the week, the protest would escalate.

Joemath said work at 70 percent of courts was disrupted countrywide on Monday. Eastern Cape courts were the worst affected, he said. - Sapa