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20 January 2021 Magistrates Commission Interview Synopsis

On 20 January 2021 the Committee interviewed 10 candidates. The interviews were for one Head of Office post in Alexandria, one Head of Office post in Alice, one entry-level magistrates post in Somerset East and one entry-level magistrates post in Queenstown.

During the interviews it became apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic does not only have a negative impact on the running of courts, but also has a negative impact on institutions such as the Magistrates Commission. One of the candidates that were interviewed by the Committee on this day ought to have been interviewed on 18 November 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the candidate was unable to attend the interviews. The Committee had to accommodate the candidate and allow them to be interviewed during this sitting. This was not the only candidate that the Committee found it necessary to accommodate, which is very commendable.

It was not the first time during interviews of the Committee that the issue of membership to a political party was raised. It is always a concern when a candidate is a member of a political party. The norms and standards specifically state that a judicial officer may not be a member of a political party. Should it ever be that a judicial officer is a member of a political party, their integrity and impartiality would be questionable. The Committee emphasised this with one of the candidates.

Several candidates displayed a fair amount of knowledge of the law and its application. This was especially so in the Head of Office interviews. However, some candidates had to be schooled by the Commissioners on some areas of the law. This was so in relation to the Maintenance Act. In terms of section 18 of the Maintenance Act a default judgment may be made by a magistrate where the respondent was properly served and is therefore aware that he or she must attend the maintenance court. Some candidates were not aware of this.

It may be so that a candidate is excellent during their interview. However, knowledge of the law and its application must be accompanied by a good character and attitude. This was evident when a candidate was asked about the reasons for the non-renewal of their acting stint at a Magistrates Court in the Northern Cape. In response to the chairperson, the candidate advised that she was not aware why her contract to act as a magistrate was not renewed. When the chairperson confirmed this answer for clarity with the candidate she was met with a lot of unnecessary rudeness. The candidate responded that she does not understand why she is being asked such a question as it would be for the third time that she would answer it before the Committee. The candidate added that she does not understand why, specifically the Chairperson of the Committee, was asking this question as she already knew the answer to the question. The entire Committee was shocked, to say the least, why the candidate would display such an attitude, specifically toward the Chairperson of the Committee.