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17 November 2020 Magistrates Commission Interviews Synopsis

On 17 November 2020 13 candidates were interviewed by the Committee. The Committee was comprised of the chairperson, commissioner Mbalo, and commissioners Sidlova, Tengeni, Mokoena, Makamu and Dyantyi. The cluster heads present were Mr Krieling, Ms Raphahlelo, Mr Thulare, Ms Mviko, Ms Ringane and Ms Ikaneng.  The interviews were for 3 posts in Kimberly. Some candidates were also interviewed for other courts which they had been shortlisted for, being Alexandria (HOO), Carnarvon (HOO), Bellville, Lady Frere, Thabazimbi, Moretele, Somerset East.

On this day eviction-related questions dominated during the interviews. The main question posed to candidate was what the difference is between the application of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998 (“PIE Act”) and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997 (ESTA). PIE applications relate to residential eviction applications and ESTA relates to rural eviction applications or peri-urban eviction applications. Further to this question, it was queried whether an eviction application in terms of PIE may be granted based on a consent by the defendant. In practice, an eviction applicant may not be granted based on consent to be evicted. The magistrate presiding over the eviction application must consider the merits of the eviction application and use their own discretion whether or not to grant an eviction application, regardless of the fact that there is a consent to the eviction by the defendant. Some candidates really struggled to answer any questions relating to PIE and ESTA, which illustrates that a candidate before the Committee must be well-versed in the different areas of the law.

Another important question raised during the interviews on this day related to the accountability of judicial officers. It is often confusing who judicial officers are accountable to. When a candidate was asked who judicial officers are accountable to, the candidate noted that judicial officers are accountable to the Constitution, the Magistrates Commission, the parties in the case and to the public. This is indeed correct. However, practically in the discharge of their duties, magistrates are accountable to the head of the court they are stationed in. In turn, the chief justice, the heads of court with the leadership of the magistracy, meet twice a year. The chief justice chairs the meeting. The meeting allows for the judicial leadership of the superior courts, regional courts, and district courts to discuss and make resolutions on matters of mutual interest. The judges president of the superior courts, the regional court presidents and the administrative heads of the district courts are members of this forum. Other stakeholders, such as the CEO of SAJEI, must also attend the meeting. The accountability of magistrates does become a complex issue at times and one must tread carefully when answering questions in relation thereto.