Judge Masipa grilled over her Oscar Pistorius ruling

2015-04-14 12:57
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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Pretoria - The handling of the Oscar Pistorius trial took centre stage during the Judicial Service Commission interviews on Monday night, City Press reported.

In the spotlight was North Gauteng High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa, who was being interviewed for the position of judge president of the soon-to-be launched Limpopo Division of the High Court.

The high court, which is yet to be operational, seeks to bring services to Limpopo while easing the case load for the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Masipa is among seven senior judges being interviewed for the job of establishing and leading the court.

The hearing – which only ended after midnight – got off to a bad start for Masipa, a former journalist, who faced more questions about the Pistorius case than about her ability to hold the position. Her ruling, which is now being appealed by the prosecution, was widely criticised for being too lenient in a country where violence against women and children is rife.

'I don't think I am stigmatised'

On Monday, the 68-year-old judge explained that people interested in the case had their own predetermined judgments. She blamed the public criticism of her on ignorance and a lack of understanding of court processes.

However, commissioner Mathole Motshekga, who is on the commission in his capacity as the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice, was not convinced and asked whether the criticism of Masipa would affect the new court.

“Given the unfair criticism against you, due to the ignorance of the law and legal processes, and the stigma from following such an ignorance, don’t you think that will also unfairly tarnish the image of the new court?” Motshekga asked.

Masipa responded saying the criticism was not about her but about her decision.

“It was because people had expected a certain outcome and that did not happen. I don’t think I am stigmatised,” she said.

'Two years is a very long time'

Masipa said she had worked on other cases since the Pistorius matter and she remained respected within the legal fraternity.

Commissioner Thandi Modise, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, said women would continue to be the underdogs because laws were failing to protect them.

Masipa’s grilling continued when commissioner Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, asked why she was in the race for the job while she had only two years left before retirement.

“You are left with two years, and then after that we must go and get another judge. Don’t you think it is better for this commission to go for someone who can stay for a longer period?” he asked.

“Two years is a very long time. When I leave there would be no instabilities,” Masipa replied.

Masipa was not the only judge to be grilled by the commissioners on Monday.

Judge Francis Legodi, who was applying for the same position as Masipa, was also subjected to a similar exercise.

'Personal issues'

Legodi’s resignation from the Arms Procurement Commission, citing “personal issues”, had commissioners wanting to know the details.

Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, an advocate and spokesperson for the JSC, told Legodi that it would be in the interests of the commission to know why he had a meeting with President Jacob Zuma and later resigned.

Legodi refused to divulge the reasons despite several attempts to extract them from him.

Meanwhile, other issues which are featuring in the discussions currently under way at the hearings in Cape Town include transformation, capacitating the courts and attracting more female judges.

Out of 20 candidates being interviewed for positions in higher courts, only three were women.

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