Disgraced magistrate is an 'asset' to justice

2017-07-24 15:02
Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Durban - One of the key witnesses who testified against magistrate Stanley Gumede - who was subsequently found guilty of "unbecoming behaviour" and being a bombastic bully by a magistrate's commission tribunal - is expected to testify again and claim "it was all a misunderstanding".

The witness, identified as only Ms Sookraj, was testifying before Gumede about her ordeal at the hands of armed robbers when, after suggesting she was giving conflicting versions, he instructed the court orderly to take her down to holding cells.

In a transcript, which was handed in to tribunal chair Desmond Nair, Gumede, then a regional court magistrate in Pinetown says: "Take her and show her where I will send her Inspector. I want him to show you where I will keep you now if you are wasting my time."

When she returns crying, Gumede says: "Did you see that place?"

Sookraj's complaint was the basis of one of 12 charges Gumede had to answer to at the tribunal hearing.

READ: Magistrate who sent a robbery victim to holding cells guilty of misconduct

'Misunderstanding'

Now Gumede's advocate Jimmy Howse, has informed Nair that Sookraj, through her attorney, has written an as yet unsigned affidavit which she wants handed in.

"Sookraj was not aware of the finding of guilt. She wants to place issues before this tribunal but did not sign the affidavit because she is ill.

"The contents are very important… She basically confirms that the whole thing was a misunderstanding."

Nair agreed that she should be called to testify when the hearing resumes in September.

Howse also submitted a transcript of an unrelated hearing in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban which, he said, would "make a point rather than prove a point".

In it, the unnamed judge presiding over a criminal trial, stops proceedings and says: "Please tell those people who are talking so loudly that there is room for them in the holding cells. This is not a shopping mall..."

"I am not presuming any misconduct [on behalf of the judge] but want to show that this sort of thing happens in the ordinary course of proceedings even in our highest courts," said Howse.

Gumede was once approached to be the National Director of Public Prosecutions but the job offer was withdrawn after numerous complaints against him came to light and the magistrate's commission declined to give him a letter of recommendation.

READ: Durban magistrate guilty of misconduct needs anger management says his advocate

Potential acting judge

The nine charges he has now been convicted of date back to 2004 to 2009 and most of the complainants were prosecutors at the court or witnesses who testified before him.

Gumede is now fighting against his possible dismissal.

KwaZulu-Natal's regional court President Eric Nzimande recently testified that Gumede was a gentleman and, since being temporarily transferred to Durban, he had not received one complaint about him.

Nzimande said Gumede "was quite an asset" and he had included his name on a list of potential acting judges.

"The Judge President, however, said he could not consider him because of all the dust surrounding him."

Nzimande said there were vacant posts in Durban and it was possible that Gumede could be given a permanent post there.

He said he too had been on the receiving end of complaints from prosecutors while based at Verulam.

"In one matter I was challenged to give reasons for an acquittal. I told the prosecutor it was not her place to do that. The correct avenue would be to take it on review. I happened on more than one occasion."

'Gentleman'

He said he could understand Gumede's frustrations in this regard.

He also agreed that "on a virtual daily basis" magistrates committed irregularities and he knew of no others who had been disciplined or prosecuted.

Howse said: "We have transcripts and have recordings of the offensive conduct. He always spoke in a calm and measured tone. There was shouting and no swearing. Have you ever seen him lose his temper?"

"No, never. He can be categorised as a gentleman," Nzimande replied.

He said Gumede could be sent on "soft skill" training courses, should the tribunal require it.

Nair, in his judgment handed down in April, said judicial independence was of "cardinal importance".

He said the code of conduct referred to a magistrate as being a person of integrity who acted with dignity, courtesy and self-control.

In spite of argument by Howse to the contrary, the transcripts, he said, "are clearly indicative when a magistrate behaves in a manner that is bullying, humiliating or intimidating.

"In all the counts, one sees impatience and a certain degree of bullying behaviour. This is underscored by intemperate choice of language and flouting the threat of imprisonment.

"When a magistrate embarks on a series of actions showing intolerance, he or she cannot hide behind judicial independence," Nair said.

"The impression left by his conduct is a very poor one."

Read more on:    durban  |  judiciary

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