Chaos at courts as lawyers protest

Image: 123RF/ginasanders

Accused persons who rely on Legal Aid have started to bear the brunt of the workers' strike yesterday with court cases not being attended to.

The Legal Aid lawyers put down their gowns yesterday, disrupting court proceedings after raising several concerns with their employer. They complained of heavy workload and safety.

The strike has had an impact on criminal court cases, in magistrate's courts and high courts.

The lawyers said they were being attacked in their offices, because of lack of security.

At the Johannesburg high court, Nontokozo Ngxuma, who had come for the appeal of her brother's case who was arrested in 2014 for armed robbery and sentenced to 15 years, said she was disappointed that the matter was postponed indefinitely. "I'm frustrated with the strike, because we have waited very long for this date and this has left me sad and I hope they resolve the strike quicker," she said.

Ngxuma said she arrived in Gauteng from Eastern Cape on Sunday, hoping that on Monday (yesterday) the appeal would proceed, so her brother could get the sentence reduced and go home sooner.

"I'm going back home not even knowing if the matter will go back to court soon," she said.

In Soweto at the Protea magistrate's court, Sipho Vilakazi's bail application was also postponed due to the absence of representatives in court.

His girlfriend Marcia Fokazi said she was worried her boyfriend might lose his job as his matter was put on hold.

"He has a part-time job and they might replace him if he is not released," Fokazi said.

She said her boyfriend was arrested on charges of assault after a fight with his brother-in-law a week ago.

"He only made his first appearance last week and was supposed to appear for his formal bail application today, so his lawyer told us that there was a strike and he said he was not sure when it would end," she said.

At the Benoni magistrate's court, the prosecutor had to postpone all Legal Aid matters.

Basil Marishane said case and two trials were postponed where people were represented by Legal Aid.

Legal Aid spokesperson Mfanafuthi Shabangu said there were disruptions in most courts as most practitioners went to hand their memorandum of demands at the head offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

"We are aware that there will be backlogs, but at this time, we can only assure the public that the backlogs will be dealt with by the practitioners only when they go back to the courts."

Shabangu said the strike would hopefully be resolved once an agreement is reached.

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