Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, June 21, 2004

Has Parliament Lost It's Mind?
Some depressing news out of our legal fraternity this morning. Stemming out of Parliamentary provisions from 1998 Amending Act on Magistrate's Courts, lay assessors will soon be in our courts with the power to overrule a regional magistrate's ruling in rape, murder or indecent assault cases, should they differ from him. This essentially takes the ruling out of the hands of the magistrate and will markedly retard the speed at which the courts operate, which is already unacceptably slow.

Somebody really needs to explain the logic of this one to me. How can we overrule a learned, experienced magistrate with two people off the street? Consult to yes, give a ruling which can be overruled by the magistrate, yes, but to give the power to the lay person is just ludicrous. Moreover, as News24 reports, if one of the two compulsory lay assessors is ill, the court is held up, and if one of the assessors is unable to continue, the case has to be closed and restarted from scratch.

The most inexplicable thing is that there are currently no clear guidelines on the selection of assessors, and no set specifications that the assessors have to adhere to. Without control over this selection process by both the prosecuting and defending parties, it becomes the easiest tool for corruption and manipulation by interested parties.

With the amount of crime and corruption in our fledgling democracy, the law has to remain a pillar of truth and transparency. This is a horribly regressive step, and I'm sure we will be hearing a lot more on lay assessors, probably in some forthcoming scandal...