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21 January 2021 Magistrates Commission Interview Synopsis

On 21 January 2021, the Committee interviewed 8 candidates. The candidates were interviewed for a Head of Office post in Steynsburg and a Head of Office post in Port St’ Johns. The candidates were also interviewed for one entry-level magistrates post in Uitenhage and one entry-level magistrates post in Cofimvaba.

It would only be fair to say that half of the candidates interviewed on the day showed a clear knowledge and application of the law. One of the candidates had acted for nine years as a magistrate in the Eastern Cape. This candidate undoubtedly did very well during the interview as he had been exposed to the proceedings of the courts before, as opposed to his contenders. Although the interviews are not easy it was good to see that the commissioners try their utmost best to put candidates at ease during the interviews. Some commissioners would rather role play with the candidates. This assists some candidates with their confidence and ability to answer questions and it does put them at ease.

Although commissioner try their best to assist the candidates by making sure that they understand questions posed to them, some candidates fail to understand that the Commission has limited time to interview each candidate. The Committee interviews all candidates for 40 minutes each. The same amount of time to interview candidates contributes to the consistency of the interviews and it allows the Committee to ask all candidates the same or similar questions. However, some candidates do themselves a disservice by not taking note of the limited time they have to persuade the Committee that they are best suitable for permanent appointment. It is advisable that candidates provide straightforward answers to questions posed. In addition to the “house-keeping questions” another example of questions that would require the candidates to provide straightforward answers are the following:

  • Does the Children’s Court have jurisdiction over guardianship of the child?
  • May a Children’s’ Court matter be postponed for 3 days and above?

It is also very important for candidates who have been limited in their practice of the law to ensure that they acquaint themselves with other areas of the law. The Committee does not confine itself to only one or two areas of the law. The questions asked by the Committee range from civil law, criminal law, the maintenance act, the child justice act, the children’s act, domestic violence act, the harassment act and property law. Candidates who have confined themselves to one or a few areas of the law have a difficulty when being interviewed by the Committee.

It is also very important that candidates complete their application document correctly. It transpired that one candidate failed to complete her application form correctly. The candidate left 3 pages of her application form blank. This candidate was however still shortlisted by the Committee to be interviewed. Now this comes to the question as to what criteria does the Committee use to shortlist candidates. In many cases when a candidate has not properly completed and submitted their application documents properly, they would not even be shortlisted. The chair of the Committee asked the candidate whether she understood the implications of not fully completing her application document. She further emphasised the importance of this as it implied that if appointed the candidate would miss out on the important information to the detriment of the parties in case and the dispensation of justice. This error also implied that if a candidate is appointed and must hand down an ex-tempore judgment, that candidate would make similar errors, to the detriment of the parties involved in a case. The chairperson further explained that candidates are judged on every aspect during their interview. The apologies extended by the candidates for the errors made absolutely no difference.

The chairperson made is a point that candidates understood that they must complete their application documents properly. The application form specifically states in capital letters that: “NOTE: COMPLETE ALL SECTIONS ON THIS FORM IN DETAIL IN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING IN BLACK INK AND IN PRINT. DO NOT MERELY REFER TO YOUR CURRICULUM VITAE OR OTHER ATTACHMENT. ONLY ONE APPLICATION PER PERSON MUST BE SUBMITTED IRRESPECTIVE OF THE NUMBER OF POSTS APPLIED FOR”. As it appeared, some candidates still failed to follow the rules stipulated in the application documents.