Magistrates' limited rape law knowledge exposed
Publish date: 13 January 2020
Issue Number: 855
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa
A 'worrying number' of short-listed magistrates applying for Regional Court positions lacked basic knowledge of the laws around rape, according to a report in The Citizen. Advocacy group Judges Matter, which sat in on the interviews for the posts, said 'a significant number' of candidates did not even know what the minimum prescribed sentence for rape was. Conducted by the Magistrates Commission in October and November, the interviews saw 88 short-listed candidates interviewed for 26 vacant posts around the country. 'Given such recent events regarding gender-based violence and femicide, one would expect that the people sitting on the Bench and administering justice would know the law and be able to apply it accordingly. However, this proved not to be the case,' it commented in a post on its website. The group said some of those interviewed also 'did not know what circumstances cannot be considered substantial and compelling circumstances in order to deviate from minimum sentences in rape cases'. 'Some of the candidates did not know what rights are to be explained to the victim of rape after the sentencing of the offender,' it added. With 52 420 sexual offence cases reported to the SAPS last year and 6 341 brought before the courts, gender activist and founder of the South African Men's Forum, Mbuyiselo Botha, said: 'If they do not even grasp what the law says, it does a huge disservice to rape and sexual assault survivors.' Botha said empowering magistrates and judges to understand the law and its ramifications for survivors should be a critical area of focus for the Department of Justice. Department spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said: 'It is imperative that any candidate aspiring for appointment as a senior judicial officer knows the law and applies it without fear or favour.'