Magistrates' Courts Amendment Bill: public hearings; deliberations and voting

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Justice and Correctional Services

13 September 2010
Chairperson: Mr N Ramatlhodi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee had scheduled Public Hearings on the Magistrates Court Amendment Bill but it was unable to hold any as there were only two written submissions and there were no oral presentation requests from these two. There had been only one submission disagreeing with the abolition of the LLB degree requirement for regional court magistrates. There was a lengthy debate on the skills and competencies of District Court Magistrates compared to those of Regional Court Magistrates. The Department of Justice proposed an amendment to the short title of the Bill so that the Bill would come into operation immediately the President signed it and not later via presidential proclamation. The Committee agreed to this. Since there were no other proposed amendments by any political party, the Committee went on to approve the Bill with this one amendment.

Meeting report

The Chairperson explained that the meeting was supposed to take the form of public hearings on the Magistrates’ Court Amendment Bill but there had not been much public interest in it.

The Committee Secretary explained that only two written submissions had been received and there were no requests for oral presentations. Therefore there would be no public hearings.

Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that the two submissions did not propose any amendments to the Bill nor did they address the specific provisions. The Committee had already had a briefing on the Bill, which was specific and they could therefore consider the Bill. He did not have any suggestions for amendments to the Bill.

Ms D Smuts (DA) said that she did not differ with Mr Jeffery’s view. To go off the topic a bit, she had received a submission from the Northern Province Law Society on the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act,saying that the jurisdiction of regional courts was not properly in operation and the gazetted Regulations were void. The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development had determined that the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act would come into operation on 9 August 2010 whereas preceding that, on 29 July he had proclaimed a jurisdiction. Could the Committee have further input on this matter from the Department? Could some of the Committee members present when the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Bill was being deliberated on, explain if the Magistrates had argued that in fact it made more sense for the district courthouse to be the seat for the hearing of civil matters?

Mr Jeffery noted that Ms Smuts had provided the Chairperson with a copy of the Northern Province Law Society’s submission but not the other Members. From a procedural point of view, if this was a submission, then it should have been given to the Committee Secretary for general distribution. The points raised by Ms Smuts seem to relate to the original Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Act. Currently district courts could deal with civil matters and they had jurisdiction up to a particular limit thereafter it was the High Court. The Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Bill provided Regional Courts - where the Magistrates were more skilled - with the powers to hear civil matters as well as criminal matters. The Committee should not look into having a discussion into the merits of the Bill that was passed in 2008 but should rather look into the merits of the Bill before it now.

Ms D Schafer (DA) said that the statement by Mr Jeffery that the Regional Courts Magistrates were more skilled was completely inaccurate. Very often Magistrates adjudicated in complex cases. Where there was mutual agreement between parties, cases involving large sums of money could be brought down to be heard in the Magistrates Courts. Regional Magistrates were not skilled in civil matters.

Mr Jeffery replied that a Regional Courts Magistrate was paid more than a District Court Magistrate, they were on a higher level and more skilled. Obviously none of the Regional Court Magistrates had been dealing with civil matters but the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act that came into operation this year extended their jurisdiction. This Act improved access to justice. If there was no difference between District and Regional Magistrates Courts then the Regional Magistrates Courts should be abolished.

The Chairperson asked if the Committee could focus on the issue at hand.

Mr Jeffery asked if there were any suggestions for amendments.

Ms Smuts said that there were no proposed amendments from the Democratic Alliance.

Mr S Swart (ACDP) asked if any negative comments had been made about the Bill.

Adv Lawrence Bassett, Chief Director for Legislative Drafting, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD) replied that those who proposed amendments to clause 15 were in agreement with the Bill. There was only one commentator who was against the abolition of the LLB degeee requirement for  regional court magistrates.

Ms Wilma Louw, Senior State Law Advisor, added that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had raised concerns over the administrative process for the appointment of Magistrates. The purpose of the amendments in clause 1 and 2 was for the abolition of the LLB degeee requirement and the public service examination and other qualification requirements. This was to bring the appointment of Magistrates in line with the appointment of Judges. The Magistrates Commission would deal with the administrative process and this body would make provision for the qualification requirements.

Adv Bassett said that the Department proposed an amendment to the short title of the Bill. The proposal was for the commencement provisions to be deleted because the Bill would come into operation as soon as the President had signed it and published it in the Gazette. This would mean that the Department would not have to go through the extra administrative process of putting the Bill into operation via presidential proclamation. In response to the points raised by Ms Smuts, the Department would like to argue that a notice could be made before an Act came into operation in accordance with Section 14 of the Interpretation Act.

Mr Jeffery said that it would be useful if the Bill was finalised today and then introduced in the House on Thursday 16 September 2010. Would the proposed amendment by the Department mean that the short title would be: This Act is called the Magistrates Courts Amendment Act 2010 and all the other words simply got deleted after that? If that was the case, then he would not have any problems against that.

Mr Bassett replied that this was indeed the case.  

Voting on the Bill
The Chairperson went through the Bill clause by clause and the entire Committee was in agreement with each clause.

Ms Smuts commented that a lot of Magistrates had been given civil jurisdiction without their having been consulted. There were difficulties in that they did not have the facilities to hear civil matters. This should be brought to the attention of the Department. Some of the Magistrates Courts referred to were Humansdorp, Roodepoort and Kempton Park.

The Committee was unanimous in its selection of Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) to table the Bill’s second reading on Thursday 16 September 2010 in the National Assembly.

The Committee adopted the Committee Report on the Bill.

Meeting Adjourned.


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