Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Magistrates 'use tactics of accused'

Magistrates 'use tactics of accused'
September 2011 | Anna Majavu
'EXTREMELY DISPLEASED': Magistrates charged with crimes are sometimes only suspended three years later
MAGISTRATES who have appealed their murder, fraud and theft convictions are still getting full salaries after the Magistrates' Commission put their disciplinary hearings on ice pending their appeals.

Parliament's justice committee said in a report tabled this week that it was also "extremely displeased" that magistrates charged with crimes are sometimes only suspended three years later.

The committee is set to meet the commission tomorrow to discuss its concerns.

Magistrates Itumeleng Morake of Lichtenburg in North West and Lefa Maruwa of Daveyton, Gauteng, had been convicted on charges dating from 2007, but "the disciplinary cases are still to be heard since they were postponed on the basis that the criminal convictions are being appealed against" the report said.

While the magistrates were suspended they "continued to receive their salaries and benefits", the report said.

The committee warned that magistrates might have picked up tips on how to use "delaying tactics" from accused in their own courtrooms.

Apart from taking a long time to set up disciplinary inquiries, the commission also failed to suspend magistrates as soon as they were charged with serious crimes.

Polokwane magistrate Ronnie Rambau was arrested in February 2010 on charges of corruption but was only provisionally suspended nine months later.

According to the report Rambau, a prosecutor and an attorney, had "arranged the outcome of a trial by pre-determining the sentence for financial reward".

The Times has previously reported on Umlazi magistrate Michael Masinga, who assaulted his wife with a blunt axe, kicked her and threatened to kill her in March 2009.

Masinga, who has since been convicted of attempted murder, was suspended in February 2010, but his disciplinary inquiry was only scheduled for August 2010.

He delayed the inquiry for seven months by not showing up at some hearings, and by arguing that the disciplinary case should be put on hold until his criminal case had been finalised.

"It is untenable for a magistrate who has been formally charged on a criminal offence to remain in office for more than a year before being suspended" the report said.

The report also said magistrate Dawid Jacobs, who was suspended on 10 charges of misconduct for being drunk in court, had been arrested for drunken driving after he was suspended. But even he has not been axed because he asked Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to allow him to vacate his office for health reasons.

The committee has asked the Magistrates' Commission to report back on its request to national director for public prosecutions, Menzi Simelane, that criminal cases involving magistrates be speeded up.

According to the report, the commission also promised that once magistrates are convicted, they would have to give good reasons why their salaries should not be suspended.

( Sowetan )

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