Improved facilities needed for disabled justice system officials, JSC told during judge interviews

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Improved facilities needed for disabled justice system officials, JSC told during judge interviews
Improved facilities needed for disabled justice system officials, JSC told during judge interviews
  • The Judicial Service Commission is interviewing candidates for vacant positions in the Gauteng High Court.  
  • There are six vacancies in the Gauteng Division of the High Court. 
  • During the interviews, one of the candidates who is wheelchair-bound told the JSC about a number of challenges she faced.   

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president, Justice Mandisa Maya, said on Tuesday that she "doubted" enough had been done to provide disabled officials with an environment to perform their work.

Maya said this during the interview of Mashudu Munzhelele, who uses a wheelchair.

READ | JSC concludes interviews for the 2 highest courts in SA

Munzhelele is one of several people shortlisted for a permanent position in the Gauteng High Court. 

Maya said: 

There are very few judicial officers or even staffers with disability in the South African court, and I doubt very much that we do enough to provide them with an environment that allows them to perform their work optimally.

"The SCA recently had a blind law researcher, and he was provided with various equipment to assist him, but when he resigned to take up another job, he wrote us a letter of appreciation in which he pointed out a number of the manners in which we had failed him that left us mortified." 

Maya said she had asked that the letter be forwarded to the Office of the Chief Justice and the Justice Ministry. 

She said, in the letter, the researcher had complained about attitudes toward disabled people."It would appear that we need to do a lot to make our officials with disabilities, not comfortable, [but] provide them with an environment to perform their work [the] same," Maya said.   

During her interview, Munzhelele told the JSC that, at times: "I felt like I should give up because it is very difficult when you are on a wheelchair with the issues of accessibility." Munzhelele said that, at the court where she was stationed in Limpopo, she could only move "from my car, to my chambers and only one courtroom, but nowhere else in the court building". 

She also told the commissioners that the government was not doing enough to create opportunities for women to access the legal profession.

READ | Zuma faces R25m legal bill after SCA blocks State funding his corruption trial costs

Munzhelele said women in the profession should be mentored and monitored.

"There are not enough women who can ascend to the position."

"[The] government should ask [itself], 'what have we done for women to access this profession?' It should not be lip service; it should also be seen to be done," she said.   

Asked about the three attributes of a judge, Munzhelele mentioned impartiality, honesty and independence.  "I focused on the ones that are so close to me.I am an impartial person, and I am very honest - you can trust me anytime and I am very much independent. If I was not independent, I don't think I would be here. You can see I am in a wheelchair," she said. 

Following deliberations on Tuesday, the JSC selected Munzhelele as the candidate the JSC will refer to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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