Speaking Notes for the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a farewell function for 4 magistrates held at the Cape Lodge Hotel and Conference Centre, 15 September 2017
Chief Magistrate Thulare,
Magistrates Lehman, Louw, Magele, Van der Kooi and Van Graan
Ladies and gentlemen
For us - as lawyers, prosecutors, judicial officers and so forth – the concept of access to justice is discussed so frequently that we sometimes forget what it means to people in the street.
Access to justice is not only the ability to get to the building where justice is administered; it is much more than that.
It means having faith in a system and believing that your dispute will be fairly resolved. It about believing that one will be heard.
For a judicial officer, it means running a court so that it functions optimally and on time, treating witnesses and those who appear before it in a way that instils confidence in the justice system. It means upholding the law and the Constitution.
Our Magistrates’ Courts continue to be the first port of call for access to justice for most people - with 740 court houses countrywide, of which 154 are periodical courts and 180 are branch courts.
For a court to render a service it must be supported by officials and other role players who are committed to serve the public and the cause of justice – in particular the needs of the poor and most vulnerable.
Often our magistrates are the very face of the law. Our Magistrates’ Courts are at the forefront of people’s interaction with the law and the justice system, and our Magistrates’ Courts have indeed evolved and adapted with time – as have our magistrates.
One is reminded of a snippet from Nelson Mandela’s Biography by Martin Meredith where it describes the first time Mandela appeared before the infamous Kempton Park magistrate, Willem Dormehl.
Mandela rose and said: “I appear for the accused, Your Worship.”
Magistrate: “And you are?”
Mandela: “My name is Nelson Mandela, Your Worship. I appear for the accused.”
Magistrate: “How can you appear for the accused? Are you an attorney?”
Mandela: “Yes, of course, Your Worship.”
Magistrate: “Where is your certificate?”
Mandela: “I don’t usually walk around with my certificate, Your Worship.”
Magistrate: “How then am I to know that you are an attorney?”
Mandela: “I suggest you telephone the registrar of the court in Johannesburg or Pretoria and ask him whether or not my name is still on the roll of attorneys…”
Magistrate: “I am not prepared to do that. This case will be postponed and you can come again with your certificate of admission as an attorney.”
Mandela: “May I suggest that we proceed with the case? The accused faces a number of charges. The case will not finish today. I can produce my certificate on the subsequent day on which the hearing of the case will be resumed.”
Magistrate: “It will be quite irregular to do it that way. The case will be postponed. Mr Prosecutor, what date do you suggest?”
Prosecutor: “The 22nd, Your Worship.”
Mandela (in an aside to the prosecutor, but within earshot of the magistrate): “I’m not available on the 22nd. Can you make it either the 21st or the 23rd?”
Prosecutor: “I would suggest the 23rd, Your Worship.”
Magistrate: “Mr Prosecutor, you have already suggested the 22nd. I have written it down. I am not going to scratch it out or amend my record. You don’t have to agree to a date suggested by a person who has not satisfied me that he is entitled to appear in my court. The case will be postponed to the 22nd.
Magistrate: “I have already postponed the matter. I will not hear another word that you have to say in my court.”
Later, after discussing the matter with George Bizos, Mandela decided to get his client to petition the Supreme Court, asking Dormehl to recuse himself.
When the matter came before Judge Quartus de Wet, the judge told Magistrate Dormehl’s legal representative that the quicker Dormehl recused himself, the better for all concerned.
Ladies and gentlemen, much has indeed changed in our courts since then.
In another case, this time a very old English case, The King v. Sainsbury (1791), the Court held that:
“It is of infinite importance to the public that the acts of magistrates should not only be substantially good, but also that they should be decorous.”
Those words are still as relevant today as they were nearly 300 years ago.
I want to thank and commend Magistrate Lehman, Magistrate Louw, Magistrate Magele, Magistrate Van der Kooi and Magistrate Van Graan for not only doing “good acts” in their courtrooms, but also for being decorous, and for the many years of service to the public, to the justice system and, ultimately, to the rule of law in our country.
Mr Louw was appointed as a clerk at Somerset West Court in 1968 and became a magistrate at Steynsburg Court in 1976. In 1980 he was appointed as magistrate at Odendaalsrus, then he went to Cape Town Court, then Bellville Court and then Clanwilliam Court. In 2000 he became magistrate at Cape Town Court, where he has served until 2017.
Ms Lehman started her career as a prosecutor in Queenstown, then becoming a magistrate in Queenstown, then in Atlantis and then transferred to Cape Town Court in 1999. She retired at the end of August this year.
Mr Magele was appointed as an interpreter and clerk at Paarl Court in 1987. After completing his BProc degree in 1993, he joined the prosecuting services at Cape Town Court. In 1997 he completed his LLB degree and was a magistrate at Cape Town from 1999 until his retirement in July this year.
Mr Van Graan has a commendable 38 years of service as a magistrate. He started as the clerk of the court at Pretoria Magistrates’ Court in 1969 and in 1979 he was appointed as a magistrate for Camperdown in KZN. After Camperdown, he came to Goodwood here in the Western Cape and thereafter to Wolseley in 1988, where he has been Head of Office until his retirement in May of this year. He is now acting magistrate for Wolseley.
Mr Van Der Kooi has been in the Department of Justice for 35 years, of which 29 years as a magistrate. He started his career as the clerk of the court at Kempton Park Magistrates’ Court in 1982.
In 1988 he was appointed as magistrate for Kempton Park. From there he became a magistrate for Potgietersrus and Acting Head of Office at Mahwelereng Magistrates’ Court in Limpopo. From 2006 until October 2015 he was acting senior magistrate for Potgietersrus before transferring to Paarl Magistrates’ Court in 2015.
He resigned in June this year to pursue private practice and is currently doing his articles of clerkship with a law firm in Potgietersrus, where he is busy with his admissions exam. I don’t think he will have the slightest problem with passing the exams on civil and criminal court procedure…
We have made great strides in transforming the magistracy in terms of race and gender and it is important that we all benefit from the expertise, skills and experience of judicial officers who have presided over cases for many years.
As you are aware, with the recent amendment to the Magistrates Act of 1993, it will now be possible for magistrates to hold office until the age of 70 without having to first obtain approval from the Minister, after consultation with the Magistrates’ Commission. A magistrate, before attaining the age of 65, must give timeous notice to the Magistrates’ Commission of his or her intention to continue to serve in office and for a specified period.
We are currently awaiting feedback from the Commission on the date that this section of the Act can be put into operation - hopefully it will be with effect from 1 November 2017. This provision will not only bring the retirement age of magistrates in line with that of judges, but will, as I have mentioned, enable all of us to benefit from their experience and wisdom.
For those who are retiring, we wish you all the best in your retirement.
They say retirement marks the end of working for someone else and the beginning of living for yourself and your loved ones. We wish you all the best, we wish you happiness and many years of good health.
There is also a saying that neither priests nor magistrates ever really remove their gowns. As you embark either on your new chapters in your careers, or in your retirement and finally get to remove your gown, thank you for your contribution and your dedication to making our courts work and making justice accessible for all.