Magistrates' demand would take law change - dept

2014-10-29 20:55
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Cape Town - Some of magistrates' demands in their six-year tussle for better employment conditions will require law changes, the justice department told MPs on Wednesday.

Senior justice department official JP Skosana said magistrates had asked to become part of the state's Parmed medical aid scheme to which judges and members of Parliament belonged. At the moment they are free to contract to any medical aid they choose, except the public service medical aid, GEMS.

"For that to happen the act will have to be changed," he told Parliament's select committee on justice and security.

This is because magistrates are judicial officers, not judges, and the move would require a law changing their formal status to that of judges of the lower courts.

Magistrates are also demanding their own pension fund, which Skosana suggested would require excessive bureaucratic efforts given the fact that they number only 2062.

"The government has said this will be very expensive," he added.

Skosana said among magistrates' complaints was that in some instances, at R991 293 a year, they earned less than prosecutors.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha said this was because magistrates remained on a single pay scale, but prosecutors' salary levels rose with seniority.

He added: "Prosecutors are also at the coalface. They are under a lot of pressure to produce convictions and their performance is critical to the outcome."

Masutha said he did not think the current salary level necessarily served as a deterrent to prosecutors becoming magistrates as many applied to do so, even though it might mean a pay cut.

"It has remained highly attractive to prosecutors to the extent that I'm not convinced that in some cases taking a salary cut served as a deterrent or dissuaded them from joining the bench."

The Association of Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa (Armsa), which is believed to represent around 90% of regional magistrates in South Africa, last year lost a Constitutional Court bid to have President Jacob Zuma's decision to increase their salaries by 5% set aside.

Armsa had recommended an across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment of 9.5%.

Read more on:    cape town  |  judiciary  |  parliament 2014

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