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Speech by Hon Michael Masutha, MP, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services at the 12th Annual Conference and AGM of South African Chapter of International Association of Women Judges, 13 August 2016

Program Director, Judge Connie Mocumie
President of SA Chapter of International Association of Women Judges, Judge
Shane Kgole
Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Penny Andrews
Judge of High Court of Botswana, Judge Key Dingake
Judges and Magistrates present
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am deeply honoured to have been invited to address the 12th Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting of South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges at this historic institution, the University of Cape Town. We recognise that 2016 is a critical year in the struggle for women’s emancipation in our country as it marks the 60th anniversary of the historic March of women to the Union Buildings in 1956. They took to the streets to protest against the unjust laws of the apartheid government which was resolute in ensuring suppression of human rights of all citizens especially women. They were tired of the socio-economic issues that continued to marginalise the majority of our people.

Today’s theme resonates with the struggle fought by those relentless women of 1956, as it focuses on the role of the judiciary in realising socio-economic transformation as a tool towards achieving sustainable development. In 2014 I had the pleasure of addressing the 10th Anniversary of the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges which took place on the eve of national Women’s day. 

In my speech that year, I implored delegates to make meaningful contributions during deliberations so that these sessions do not become calendar events with no concrete resolutions on how to reshape women’s participation for gender equality. I am really encouraged that my words did not fall on deaf ears as the theme of this session clearly demonstrates a commitment to go beyond talking but action. A global approach to societal problems is significant in adopting an aggressive stance to these challenges which fly in the face of commitment of women who took part in the historic march of 1956 which we commemorated on Tuesday 9 August.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Transformation of the judiciary is part of the broader transformation agenda of the South African democratic government as envisaged in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Freedom Charter. One of the primary aims of the transformation of the judiciary is to ensure that judicial personnel reflected the demographic composition of society more accurately as guaranteed by section 174(2) of the Constitution. Our gender transformation is amplified by international and regional instruments and conventions which we have ratified as a country.  Among these instruments, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most significant.  CEDAW which was ratified by Parliament on 15 December 1995 is often referred to as “Bill of Rights” for women, because it constitutes a comprehensive statement of the rights of women to equality with men in many areas.

In the South African context, the Judiciary has an important role in ensuring that our evolving jurisprudence is geared towards giving effect to the intentions and aspirations espoused in our Constitution and the international instruments.  This is an area where I would imagine that an institution such as SAWLA would find its niche – through ensuring that the courts make decisive injunctions to remove persistent gender prejudices and stereotypes that undermine the right to equality. The National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030 expressly acknowledges this fact as it lists, among the qualities and attributes of an ideal South African judge, a progressive judicial philosophy and an understanding of the socio-economic context in which the law is interpreted. I am sure that as an institution that advocates gender mainstreaming, it will strive to influence structures such as the South African Judicial Education Institute and the Judicial Services Commission which are assigned the tasks of recruiting and training judges.  

In its scope, the transformation of the judicial system entails a broader concept of reform, which includes the reorganisation and the rationalisation of the courts to align them with the Constitution, the transformation of the legal profession, the reform of the state legal services and initiatives to improve the criminal and the civil areas of our justice system. The Judicial system will be impoverished if the members of this august body and women in general do not make their voice heard in the transformation discourse.

Programme Director
We are expediting the reform of our Magistrates Courts which form the cog of our justice system. When the subject of transformation of the judiciary is ventilated, many often focus on the judges and make magistrates from the lower courts back benchers yet the majority of litigation that affects the indigent happens there. These reforms will culminate in the enactment of new legislation in the place of the Magistrates Courts Act of 1944, thereby removing the remaining elements of the justice system of the apartheid regime. Our commitment to women empowerment in the magistracy was demonstrated by recent appointment of Regional Court Magistrates. Out of    26 appointed, 16 were female and out of additional 4 senior magistrates, 3 are females.

With regard to the judges, our statistics currently show that we have a total of 242 permanent judges. Of these, only 86 are women.  Regarding racial demographics we have 39 African judges, 11 Coloured, 11 Indian and 25 white. This is against a backdrop of only 1 Black judge in 1994. 

The limited number of women who advance to the bench is attributed to the low number of female legal practitioners in comparison to their male counterparts. I am advised by the General Council of the Bar that as at the end of April 2016, women made 742 of the total number of 2826 registered members as practicing advocates on their roll.

Therefore special attention is required to create opportunities for aspirant judges and lawyers to pursue a career in the legal sector.   The Legal Practice Act and the State Attorney Amendment Act which is currently being considered by the President are intended to level the playing field.  The Legal Practice Act in particular, aims to remove barriers to the practice of law for previously disadvantaged individuals and thus widen the pool of layers both in the bar and side bar.  On the other hand the State Attorneys Amendment Act will institutionalise the preferential allocation of State legal work to female and other previously disadvantaged practitioners.

Ladies and gentlemen  
It is also encouraging that judges are increasingly being appointed from the ranks of magistrates.  This affirms the Government’s commitment to a unified judiciary that subscribes to uniform norms and standards that are aimed at guaranteeing judicial independence and the rule of law.  This calls for the Magistrates Commission to be more vigilant in its recruitment process as it lays a foundation for future judges.  

I wish to reaffirm our commitment, as the Ministry and the Department, to an unequivocal support to the on-going reforms that are aimed at safeguarding the independence of the judiciary and to provide an enabling environment for the judiciary to execute its constitutional mandate. The Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act of 2012 and the Superior Courts Act of 2013 which we are implementing with the support of the Chief Justice and his leadership, provide a clear path to the future. 

Distinguished guests
As I close, it will be remiss of me if I do not acknowledge the indelible contribution that the judiciary continue to make in dispensing justice to all people of this country under trying circumstances. The Superior Courts, guided by our able Constitutional Court, continue to shape our constitutional jurisprudence.  In many landmark judgments that shape our destiny the voice of a woman, whether as a judge, legal representative, one of the parties to a suit is always audible. Similarly, Magistrates Courts, which deal with volumes of cases daily give meaning to the values of access to justice espoused in the Constitution and this is because of the sacrifices of many people who ensure that justice is not only done, but manifestly seen to be done.

Today there are no laws that exclude women from any career pursuit or life opportunities in the legal profession or elsewhere. My appeal to all women in the legal sorority is that, do not drop the ball when appointed to the bench but strive to excel so as to quell the perception that at times, as a country we promote mediocrity thus compromising quality of service to our people.

American women’s rights and anti-slavery activist, Susan B. Anthony once said “The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race."

I thank you.