‘Summary conviction’ wrong

2013-09-18 00:00

HIGH court judges have ruled that a Pietermaritzburg regional court magistrate was not entitled to “summarily” convict an attorney, Spha Mabaso, of contempt of court and to fine him R5 000 (or 10 days’ imprisonment) for conduct she regarded as disrespectful of the court.

The incident occurred on August 15 this year.

The case came before Judge Trevor Gorven and Judge Rashid Vahed on special review last week at the request of the magistrate concerned, Mpume Linda.

In their judgment, the judges found that there were a “number of difficulties” with the (legal) procedure adopted by Linda and set aside the conviction and sentence she’d imposed on Mabaso.

They found that although the court does have jurisdiction over the “common law crime of contempt of court”, it was obliged to deal with it “as with any other crime … by way of a formal hearing”.

However, they said that because their ruling was based on “procedural” rather than substantive grounds, the magistrate was entitled to take whatever steps were deemed necessary to “prosecute” Mabaso.

The dispute between Linda and Mabaso came about when Linda alleged that Mabaso disobeyed her instruction to proceed with a trial in her court, and went to Estcourt to attend to another case there.

Judge Gorven said during the inquiry there were clearly differences of opinion between the magistrate and the accused’s attorney as to what had transpired, and what was understood to have happened in the matter.

Mabaso did not concede that he had misconducted himself.

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