The Constitutional Court has decided not to overturn President Jacob Zuma’s decision to give magistrates a 5% increase along with all other public servants.
But the court has also thrown them a bone by pointing out how important they are.
This decision comes against a backdrop of unhappiness among magistrates about their working conditions.
In a unanimous judgment handed down earlier today, the court ruled that the president’s 2010 decision to give magistrates a 5% increase – as opposed to the 7% that had been recommended – was valid because it was not irrational.
The Association of Regional Court Magistrates took Zuma to court after he rejected a recommendation by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers to give civil servants a 7% increase.
The North Gauteng High Court ruled that Zuma’s “one-size-fits-all” approach was impermissible and that the president at least had to apply his mind to different categories of public office bearers.
The court ruled that Zuma’s decision was therefore irrational in terms of the principle of the rule of law.
But the Constitutional Court has overturned this ruling, saying the president “is not obliged to perform the specialist research of the commission or hear submissions from individual categories of public office bearers again should he decide to adjust the recommended salary increase”.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the decision to review the increase by the president was an executive decision and not an administrative one.
It therefore also dismissed the argument that Zuma’s decision was not procedurally fair.
In the final paragraph of the judgment, however, the court said it was important to acknowledge that district and regional magistrates’ courts were a “vital part of the judiciary and the administration of justice”.
The Constitutional Court noted that the criminal and civil jurisdiction of these courts had been “substantially increased”.
The working conditions and remuneration of magistrates has been in the news lately after the Judicial Officers Association of SA (Joasa), a body which represents a significant portion of magistrates, called for a go-slow by its members.
Joasa is demanding that magistrates be treated the same way as judges when their salaries are determined.