SEVERAL judges and legal practitioners have been suspended, struck from the roll, or are being investigated for offences ranging from delayed judgments and misappropriating their clients’ funds.
According to the judiciary, 50 legal practitioners have either been struck from the roll or suspended since January 2023.
One Western Cape-based legal practitioner was found guilty of bringing the legal profession into disrepute, by misappropriating R330 000 which was paid to him by a client, and which was to be held in trust pending the finalisation of the transfer of a property.
The matter was postponed last month by the Legal Practice Council at the lawyer’s request.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judges, Tshifhiwa Maumela and Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi were suspended by President Cyril Ramaphosa after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended to Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to appoint a Judicial Conduct Tribunal to consider complaints against the two judicial officers lodged by Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo.
According to the JSC, the judges were suspended for their failure to deliver many reserved judgments timeously or within a reasonable time, and the commission decided that their failure to deliver reserved judgments within the prescribed time or within a reasonable time would, if established, prima facie indicate incapacity, gross incompetence, or gross misconduct on their part, considering the extent of the delays and the prejudice suffered by the parties involved in the matters they heard.
The JSC also placed a condition that during the period of suspension, the two judges finalise all matters presently before them.
In his report on reserved judgments, Chief Justice Zondo indicated that in the second term of the year, which ended in May or June depending on the superior court, there were 1 284 reserved judgments, and 264 had been reserved and outstanding for over six months, while 1 020 had been delayed for less than six months.
The Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, had the highest number of reserved judgments with 235, while the Western Cape High Court had 118.
Judgments in civil and criminal matters can generally not be reserved without a fixed date for handing them down.
“The norms and standards further determine that, save in exceptional circumstances, every effort should be made to hand down judgments no later than three months after the last day of hearing,” Chief Justice Zondo said.
In the 2022/23 financial year, the JSC received 93 complaints, and 40 were resolved, whilst 53 outstanding at the end of March 2023 and were carried forward to the 2023/24.
Most of the complaints, 39, related the Gauteng division (Tshwane and Joburg).
The complaints reduced from 162 in 2020/21 and 95 in 2021/22.
The 35 complaints against judges mostly related to breaches of the code of judicial conduct such as the right to a fair trial and failure to work diligently.
Chief Justice Zondo has also revealed that his office had finalised 13 fraud and corruption cases in 2022/23, with recommendations for departmental loss recovery and the institution of disciplinary processes.
Another 25 cases were referred to law enforcement agencies and other relevant regulatory bodies for further investigations.
An additional 120 investigated vetting files were submitted to the State Security Agency.
Last week, the “Sunday Independent” reported that Gauteng High Court, Joburg Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland had warned that judicial officers were chronically fatigued due to their enormous workload and demanded that this be addressed.
“It is no secret that the volume of work in this division (South Gauteng High Court} is enormous and the pressure to enrol cases within a reasonable lead time of a request for a set-down date is stretching the capacity of the bench. The litigating public is not served by a critical mass of chronically fatigued judges,” said Deputy Judge President Sutherland.