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JOB MARKET - Making a case for justice

By Chantelle Gradidge | 2011-08-10 11:53:56.0

A career as a state advocate is intellectually stimulating

STATE Advocate Marika van Vuuren is the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions at the National Prosecuting Authority, currently stationed at NPA head office and dealing with, among other things, matters of the former Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions, now the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation).

When at high school Van Vuuren came across a brochure describing the career of a state advocate.

"I knew right away that this was the career path I wanted to follow and immediately set out to achieve my goal."

State advocates' salaries differ according to level of hierarchy, but is market-related and includes benefits such as a 13th cheque, medical aid, housing allowance and contribution to a pension fund.

Job descriptions depend on where the state advocate is stationed. For example, a state advocate working at the Director of Public Prosecutions Office prosecutes cases in the high court. These cases include murder, rape, robbery, as well as serious economic offences such as fraud, theft, corruption, money laundering, racketeering, and so forth.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, state advocates can also prosecute in the lower courts (regional and district courts). Responsibilities include conducting appeals, writing opinions in review matters, making decisions in respect of cases involving police officials, and making decisions in inquests.

Other specialised units within the NPA include the sexual offences and community affairs unit, the asset forfeiture unit, the witness protection unit, the national prosecuting service, the priority crimes litigation unit, and the specialised commercial crime unit.

"This career is exciting and challenging, and brings immense job satisfaction because we're fighting for justice and serving the community," Van Vuuren says.

"It's an incredibly intellectually stimulating career, providing opportunities to do extensive research and therefore acquiring comprehensive knowledge in many areas.

"This career offers opportunities to gain experience in a wide field of criminal matters, and just when you think you have seen it all, something shocking will surface!

"Many opportunities to travel, locally as well as internationally, will arise, and the pay is generally good."

As with most jobs there are pros and cons to this career.

"Firstly, it is a very confrontational job, which means that one needs to have a strong character to deal with all types of people," Van Vuuren says.

It can be emotionally draining, especially when dealing with sexual offences and matters involving children. One tends to become very cynical in this job when working with criminals and the "dark side of life".

Trusting people becomes very difficult.

Another con is that a state advocate who deals mostly with criminal matters has limited experience in civil matters and vice versa.

To be admitted as an advocate of the high court, you will need an LLB degree.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, require a BJuris or BProc degree.

One should also be computer literate, be fluent in English (English is more commonly used in court these days), be able to conduct thorough research, have managerial skills, be competent with organising and planning, and must be able to handle pressure.

"You have to be dedicated, hard-working, and diligent," Van Vuuren says.

"You must be loyal and honest, with integrity, and be someone who wants to make a difference. You must have above average interpersonal skills, be ethical, fair and consistent, have a strong personality and perseverance, and be willing to go the extra mile."

An average day depends on where you are stationed.

Generally, a day involves admin work such as reading case dockets, doing research, drafting opinions, writing heads of argument in appeal matters and so on, or preparing for or attending to court cases.

"I remember one particularly humorous incident during one of my first court cases," Van Vuuren says.

"The juvenile accused had stolen and tampered with a vehicle in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

"One of the elements of the crime was that I had to prove that the offence took place on a public road. I was questioning a Sergeant of the SAPS, assuming he knew that I had to prove this.

"I put the question to him, 'Sergeant, you are mentioning 5th Avenue, 8th Avenue, and West Street. What type of roads are these?'

"He answered, 'They used to be gravel roads but were recently tarred.' The entire courtroom erupted with laughter."

Jokes aside, this job does come with its scary moments.

"In the very first case I prosecuted, I was threatened by the accused. After he was convicted, he told me that he would 'get' me one day. That was quite daunting," she says.

If you are a person of integrity with high moral values, you are dedicated and hard-working, you are willing to serve the community, and you want to make a difference in this world, then you would do well in the career of a state advocate. - SA CareerFocus