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Mental stress hits SA magistrates

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According to a survey conducted by the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) at University of Cape Town (UCT), more than half of magistrates in south African courts suffer from stress which is being induced by too much work load and lack of security after handling some cases.

The research which unearthed the plights of magistrates was aimed at supporting judicial governance and providing free access to legal resources in Africa.

Director of DGRU, Vanja Karth, noted that out of the 156 surveyed magistrates, 50% of magistrates indicated they had too much workload on their task role, especially with civil cases.

Most of the magistrate who deal with civil cases are said to have primarily trained for criminal law cases, rather than civil cases as such magistrates lack fundamental training practice in the field they are working in.

“Only when they are appointed as magistrates, do they receive training in civil law. It may be that a lack of training is hampering magistrates’ ability to work effectively,” said Karth

Furthermore, the survey unearthed a shocking revelation of fear of presiding over some cases which have the potential of individuals retaliating against the court’s judgments.

“Roughly 44% of magistrates said they have been personally harmed as a direct result of their judicial role (40% men and 50% women). About 55% of magistrates in the Western Cape and 64% of magistrates in Limpopo have been threatened in the past,” added Karth.

“About 45% of respondents said that they experienced a great deal of stress, while 26% said that they experienced a lot of stress.”

The two major factors, too much workload and lack befitting protection have contributed to stress.

“It is common sense that a high case-load and perceptions of lack of safety and security are causes for increased levels of stress,” highlighted Karth.

In December 2019 Cape Town lawyer Vernon Jantjies was gunned down after being part of the court proceedings which resulted in criminals being sentence to prison. More so a City lawyer Pete Mihalik was gunned down in October 2018.

Magistrates play a crucial role in facilitating court of law justice, as such there is great need for the judiciary to execute their work, without fear, as this will foster transparency. The findings of the survey are said to go a long way in facilitating the crafting of polices which protect magistrates.

Liberty Pazvakawambwa SADC News Correspondent

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