Judges must wait to hear why their reprimand over waiting has been delayed
Judges who reprimanded magistrates over admin chaos have renewed their criticism a year later, and they're still waiting
Two judges who gave magistrates’ courts a blistering wigging over administrative chaos have renewed their criticism a year later.
Mark Sher and Robert Henney say despite attempts to fix the shambles, recalcitrant magistrates and officials in the Western Cape are still causing “inordinate delays” in the administration of justice.
They have given the regional head of the justice department‚ Hishaam Mohamed, until October 1 to tell them what he is going to do about officials at Clanwilliam Magistrate’s Court.
And he has until November 15 to tell them why the new province-wide systems he introduced after their previous reprimand have not worked.
Sher and Henney made their demands in a judgment about a case in which a sentence imposed by the Clanwilliam magistrate should have been automatically forwarded to the high court in Cape Town within seven days to be reviewed by a judge.In the end, it was a year before they were able to deal with the review because of delays the magistrate blamed on pressure of work. Even this wasn’t as bad as the three-year delay at Caledon and Montagu courts which sparked their 2017 tirade and led to the creation of a task team by Mohamed.
The task team audited problem courts identified by the judges — the others were in Vredendal and Ceres — and reported to Sher and Henney last November.
“The team identified various systemic and administrative deficiencies including staff shortages and lack of resources, and technical and personnel challenges,” said the judges.
It also named “negligent” staff at each court, saying disciplinary action was being taken, and pointed out that as a result of the judges’ criticism the Department of Justice had sent a circular to all courts reminding them of their duties.
“A repeated refrain in the report ... was that there were inadequate control measures in place and a general lack of proper checking and monitoring,” said Sher and Henney.The report contained an undertaking that Mohamed and area court managers would introduce a monthly audit of reviewable sentences.
But the judges said: “It is disconcerting that notwithstanding these laudable attempts ... there are still magistrates who appear not to understand the urgency associated with automatic review matters.
“And clearly there is still no proper monitoring and control system in place at administrative level. Instead, it appears that there are still magistrates, clerks, and court and area court managers who are not attending to their duties.
“This is not in the interests of justice and cannot be allowed to continue.”
The judges reported the Clanwilliam magistrate to the Magistrates Commission and asked it to consider disciplinary action against her. Because of the year-long delay, they scrapped the conviction and sentencing of a man who had pleaded guilty to drink-driving and driving without a licence.
The Department of Justice did not respond to Times Select questions.
What are reviewable sentences?
Under the Criminal Procedure Act‚ when a magistrate’s sentence exceeds certain thresholds — which vary according to the magistrate’s seniority — it automatically has to be reviewed by a high court judge unless the offender had legal representation or has appealed. Under the Child Justice Act‚ all cases of child imprisonment have to be reviewed.
The records of each case have to be sent to the high court registrar within seven days of sentencing. The reviewing judge acts as a court of appeal and can alter a sentence‚ quash a conviction or scrap the whole case.
“The great majority of accused who come before the magistrates’ courts are legally unrepresented‚ and criminal proceedings in these courts are not considered to be properly concluded until the reviewing judge has certified that they were in accordance with justice‚” said Judge Mark Sher and Judge Robert Henney.