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18 November 2020 Magistrates Commission Interviews Synopsis

On 18 November 2020, 10 candidates were interviewed by the Committee. The interviews were chaired by commissioner Mbalo and the commissioners present on the day were commissioners Sidlova, Makamu, Mokoena and Tengeni. The cluster heads present on this day were Mr Krieling, Mr Mokgobo, Ms Ikaneng and Ms Raphahlelo. The interviews were for Carnarvon (HOO), Mothibistad and Upington. Some candidates were also interviewed for other courts which they had been shortlisted for, being Bloemfontein, Tlhabane, Port Elizabeth, Somerset East, Kgomotso (HOO) and Vryburg (HOO).

Candidates were asked about their understanding of the independence of the judiciary. When considering the meaning of the independence of the judiciary, the starting point is acknowledging that South Africa has three arms of government. The three arms of government are the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Each arm of government is independent of each other. Section 165 of the Constitution emphasises this independence and states that “[t]he courts are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law which they must apply impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice.” It is further stated that “[n]o person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts.”. These constitutional provisions are the crux of the independence of the judiciary. We would expect that all judicial officers know these constitutional provisions by heart.

In addition to questions relating to the independence of the judiciary, the norms and standard for judicial conduct were also the focus of the day. It was enquired from candidates whether they are of the view that judicial officers should account for their performance and if so, on what basis. Most candidates were aware of the existence of the norms and standards for judicial conduct. However, there were those candidates who claimed they had never heard of the norms and standards for judicial conduct, which was very surprising and concerning because some of these candidates were already acting magistrates.

The norms and standards for judicial conduct were issued by chief justice Mogoeng in 2014. The norms and standards for judicial conduct are applicable to all judicial officers. The main objective of the norms and standards is to enhance access to quality justice for all, to affirm the dignity of all court users and to ensure the effective, efficient, and expeditious adjudication of all disputes before the court.  To achieve the objectives of the norms and standards the performance of judicial officers is monitored. The norms and standards make provision for the amount of time within which a judgment must be delivered and the amount of time that judicial officers must spend in court, amongst other things.

Considering that the candidates interviewed by the Committee have substantial experience in the legal field and some are already acting magistrates one would expect that all candidates are aware of the existence of the norms and standards. This is so because judicial officers are held to account for their performance in terms of the norms and standards. If acting magistrates are not provided with training and some of them do not even know that there exists the norms and standards, how can one be certain that they are able to dispense with justice efficiently and effectively?