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Almost quarter of magistrates threatened because of their work: survey

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
A report on the working conditions of magistrates says it is extremely concerning that there is a perception of corruption among magistrates, from magistrates themselves.
A report on the working conditions of magistrates says it is extremely concerning that there is a perception of corruption among magistrates, from magistrates themselves.
Image: 123RF/ rclassenlayouts/ File photo

Perceived corruption, safety and security and heavy workloads have been identified as three challenges faced by magistrates in South Africa.

This is contained in a research report released by the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town on Wednesday. 

The report, titled “Under Pressure”, said magistrates were under increasing pressure, both from within the courts and from outside.

Almost a quarter of magistrates reported being physically harmed or threatened in the 12 months before the survey, simply because of their job, it found.

Sixteen percent of female respondents reported having been sexually harassed or knowing a magistrate who had been sexually harassed — with the most commonly identified perpetrator being another magistrate. 

The survey of South African magistrates about their work environment comprised 48 questions and elicited responses from 230 of the country’s 1,726 magistrates. The respondents completed the survey between February and August 2022. 

“In the 12 months prior to the survey, almost a quarter (23%) of magistrates said that they were personally threatened or harmed because of their work ‘once or twice’. A further 10% said that this happened a ‘few times’.

“These two figures combined means that a third had been threatened or harmed in the last year,” the report found. 

On the questions related to security inside and outside the court building and in the courtroom, more than a quarter indicated non-existent security within the courtroom, and outside the court building, including parking.

The report said while security measures were put in place in the magistrates' courts, such as screening at the entry of the court building, these were not enough.

It recommended there should be cameras in every corner of a court building and a security presence in each level of the court.

When asked “how many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption”, almost half (49%) of magistrates said some, most or all magistrates are involved in corruption. Just over 10% said they or a magistrate they know was offered a bribe “once or twice” or “several times” in the last two years.

The report said a finding of particular concern was that 10% of those aware of a bribe to a magistrate, identified another magistrate as offering the bribe.

“It is extremely concerning that there is a perception of corruption among magistrates, from magistrates themselves. The results seem to suggest that some who have no place in the magistracy seem to have entered it.”

A significant fraction of magistrates (34%) reported working for more than 50 hours per week, while 15% of magistrates reported working 60 hours or more each week.

“More than 40% of magistrates in regional courts say they are working more than 50 hours a week. At the same time, one in eight reported working less than 35 hours.” 

Seven out of 10 magistrates were satisfied with the variety of work, but only one in eight was satisfied with their pay and benefits.

The report said given the findings of the survey, it was unsurprising that when asked to identify major issues affecting the magistracy, lack of adequate benefits was most likely to be mentioned (43%), followed closely by lack of proper infrastructure and resources (40%).

Also scoring high was morale within the magistracy (29%), and the ability to attract and retain the best people within the magistracy (20%). 

TimesLIVE


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