No court disruptions so far in Durban, Joburg

By Drum Digital
18 March 2013

There were no major disruptions in courts in Johannesburg and Durban on Monday morning, ahead of a planned strike by magistrates.

"All magistrates have reported for duty. There are no disruptions," said Vick Misser (SUBS: CORR), director of the Johannesburg court cluster.

In the Durban Magistrate's Court, chief magistrate Thamsanqa Mabaso said: "There is a good turnout and we have normal rolls."

He had not heard of any disruptions at his court.

Earlier the Office of the Chief Justice said if magistrates went ahead with their planned strike on Monday, it would jeopardise the welfare of the people they were obliged to render a service to.

"Should the strike action materialise, it would be regrettable," it said in a statement.

"It should also be stated that the Office of the Chief Justice is satisfied that the magistrates' commission... has put in place adequate measures to deal with any disruptions that may arise from the impending strike action."

Magistrates want a single pay structure for the judiciary: one that would have their salaries and benefits put on the same sliding scale as those of judges. This could see their salaries increase by almost 100 percent.

On Sunday justice department spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the strike would cause little disruption, as acting magistrates had been appointed. Acting magistrates would deal with cases that were ready to proceed.

Mhaga said magistrates were classified as public office bearers and, as such, "whatever they do is illegal". Magistrates who joined the strike could face disciplinary action or even impeachment, he said.

If members of the public experienced problems on Monday, they should contact the court managers, who would be at all the courts.

Mhaga said the justice department was working to ensure that salary adjustments of 5.5 percent for 1912 magistrates would be implemented by April 15 and backdated to the beginning of that month.

Mhaga could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

A dispute over the salary increase forms part of a matter before the Constitutional Court.

On February 19 the Constitutional Court heard an application for confirmation and variation of an order of constitutional invalidity, and a conditional application for leave to appeal against a decision of the Pretoria High Court by the Association of Regional Magistrates of SA (Armsa).

The application followed a decision by President Jacob Zuma in 2010 to increase the remuneration of regional magistrates and regional court presidents by five percent with effect from April 1, 2010. This was based on a recommendation from the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers for a seven percent increase.

Armsa applied to the High Court to review and set aside the president's decision. It contended it was a reduction in remuneration, procedurally unfair, and took a one-size-fits-all approach.

Armsa sought to have the matter remitted to the president for reconsideration, subject to an invitation for representations from regional magistrates and regional court presidents. The High Court granted part of the relief sought by Armsa.

It held that the president's decision was not an administrative action but was reviewable under the principle of legality. The High Court upheld only one ground in relation to the one-size-fits-all approach.

Armsa then applied to the Constitutional Court for confirmation and variation of the High Court order. It also applied for leave to appeal against part of the High Court's order. It argued the matter raised a clear constitutional issue, that there were reasonable prospects of success, and it that it was in the interest of justice to grant leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court directly.

The remuneration commission opposed the application and sought leave to appeal the entire judgment and the order of the High Court.

-by Sapa

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