Judge Masipa fears government’s disregard for law

2015-07-05 15:12
Judge Thokozile Masipa delivers her judgement in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. (Phill Magakoe/Independent Newspapers/Pool)

Judge Thokozile Masipa delivers her judgement in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. (Phill Magakoe/Independent Newspapers/Pool)

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Johannesburg - The SA government is disregarding the law in certain instances, said Judge Thokozile Masipa during an event held at a London law firm earlier this week.

“We are all supposed to respect the law, including the State. The State should be leading by example and when it doesn’t you really fear for the future,” Masipa was quoted as saying in a transcript of a question and answer session, following a lecture she delivered for a Human Rights Law Association (HRLA) event in London on Thursday evening.

“That is what is troubling. People will start disregarding the law because the State is disregarding the law and that is one thing that really scares me.”

The transcript of Masipa’s Q and A session was published on the website, thesouthafrican.com, while a copy of the actual speech was published online by the Sunday Times.

In her speech, Masipa said that judicial officers could not be beholden to the government.

“If a certain decision happens to please the government or anyone it should purely be by coincidence."

Masipa said that the need for judges to be impartial and independent also meant that they led somewhat lonely lives.

“Because of the nature of their job, judges live very structured and restricted lives. They spend much of their lives working, whether this be at work or home and hardly have time for anything else…

“Judges who want to fulfill their responsibilities properly, will be slow to fraternize with politicians, government officials, powerful individuals in society or anyone whose friendship might create the wrong impression.”

She said when court cases took place in small towns, various parties involved in a case might be at the same hotel and judges would have to take care to remain independent:  “Such a judge may have to bear the discomfort and inconvenience of having his meals sent to his room rather than run the risk of socializing with counsel and later being forced to recuse himself.”

Masipa also gave the example of a newly-appointed judge who had to change his leisure activities in order to maintain the correct decorum and image for his position:  “A new judge with a corporate background was horrified to learn that now that he had been appointed as a judge it was no longer desirable that he visits his favourite shebeen.”

Overall, said Masipa, she believed that South Africa was “steadily moving in the right direction” when it came to ensuring a completely independent judiciary.

Masipa was propelled into the public eye last year when she oversaw the trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in which he was acquitted of murder, but convicted of culpable homicide for shooting dead his model and law-graduate girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of February 14 2013.

He fired four shots through the locked door of the toilet in his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day, apparently thinking she was an intruder.

Masipa sentenced Pistorius  to five years in prison for killing Steenkamp, and for three years - suspended for five - for discharging a firearm in a restaurant.

Last month the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board (CSPB) confirmed on Monday that Pistorius would leave the Kgosi Mampuru II Prison in Pretoria on August 21 under correctional supervision

Meanwhile, the State’s appeal against the former Paralympic athlete's conviction will be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal in November, after Masipa granted the State leave to appeal her culpable homicide conviction, as a matter based on her interpretation of the law.  However, she dismissed the State’s application to appeal Pistorius’s five-year jail sentence.

Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  thokozile masipa

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