Last night, Judge Masipa was hosted by the Human Rights Lawyers Association at Hogan Lovells in High Holburn, and gave a talk on the roles of the judiciary and how a judge must be seen within that system.
The Human Rights Law Association (HRLA) is a forum for those involved in the law and legal professions to discuss human rights issues, where HRLA facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas about human rights law and foster the exchange of views between specialists from different areas of expertise and the wider legal community.
— John Cole-Morgan (@JohnColeMorgan) July 3, 2015
Masipa explained in detail the role of judges, the new role of government within the governing of South Africa compared to years ago, and how judges need to be impartial at all times. Masipa told stories of her career about how the familiarity of prosecutors with judges appeared improper and how she as a judge scrutinises every social invitation.
— Sarah Jayne (@sjmatanza) July 2, 2015
During the questions and answers section of the talk, Masipa was asked some tough questions.
“It was especially difficult for judges then. I am not sure if you know, but then in South Africa Parliament was supreme. Once a law was introduced, no court of law could strike it down. Things are different now because the Constitution is supreme and any law which is against the Constitution may be struck down by a court of law.
“Although judges of that time might have tried to make things easier, it couldn’t always happen. They were assisted by Council who looked at the laws and found loopholes in the laws and a lot of people were able to be discharged because of these loopholes.
“As a judge, you are not allowed to judge on something that has not been argued in court. Unless I am able to give council an opportunity to address me. What is open to me is, to clarify with written arguments about points that concern me.”
— Naa-Adjeley Barnor (@nadj_barnor) July 2, 2015
“I might be wrong about this, but generally there is very little understanding of what judges are all about. They think because the we are paid by the tax payers money we should also be officials of the government. The comments that come from the public…. If I can give an example. When judges are sitting as an appeal, there are three judges. One is a district judge, one who will write the judgement is a white judge and all three judges agree this should be the outcome. You find comments like, ‘These black judges, they don’t know what they are doing… We appointed black judges because we wanted them to look out for us’.
“That gives you the idea that people really don’t have any idea of the role you have as a judge. You are not going there as a judge because of your colour. It may have a motivation when people wanted to show there was a demographic of the judiciary in the country. You are not there to ensure that blacks are being looked after.
“There is little understanding by the man in the street of the role of a judge. It is the same thing when you are a woman. In a rape case where there is no evidence in the case and the accused is discharged, woman will come down on you without understanding there is no evidence. Woman throw insults at you, and they don’t understand you are there for the interest of the public.”
“We all bring our baggage with us wherever we go. As a judge you have to try, when you are sitting there, looking at the litigants or accused before you, you have to remind yourself of the judicial oath which specifically says ‘you will adjudicate every matter without fear, without favour and without prejudice’.
“So if you take your oath very seriously you will be able to forget about your prejudices, you will be able to forget where you come from, I for example would find every white person guilty. I have to as a judge to forget where I come from. It is training and it is taking your oath seriously. Keep on reminding yourself of your oath.”
“We are all supposed to respect the law, including the State. The State should be leading by example and when it doesn’t you really fear for the future. If you transcress the law there are always consequences. So that is what is troubling. People will start disregarding the law because the State is disregarding the law and that is one thing that really scares me.”
“I don’t think courts can be influential and unless a case is before a judge there is nothing the court can do.”
“I don’t know of any call to bring back the jury system. Thanks for that information, I didn’t know the reason why it [the jury system] was abolished. I know so little about it. The public as it is, is so ignorant, that bringing back the jury the system might now be a good idea. I don’t know why it is not being used at the moment.”
Masipa has previously been reported in April 2015 saying: “A judge must respect criticism. It is not personal. When someone expressed their frustration you should just let them… judges have been attacked all over… we are not on the bench to please people, we are not there to win a popularity contest. We are their to do a job and, once you know you’ve done your job, there really isn’t anything to worry about.”
Judge Masipa became world renown for being the High Court judge presiding over the infamous Oscar Pistorius trial. Infamous too, for being the second black woman judge admitted to the bench as a High Court judge in 1998.
Masipa was born in Soweto and is the eldest of ten children. After matriculating in 1966, Masipa went on to get a degree in Social Work in 1974 and a further LLB degree from UNISA in 1991, being admitted as an advocate in 1991. Prior to being a lawyer Masipa was a journalist for such publications as The Sowetan newspaper.
Masipa ascended to the bench after only seven years of practising as a lawyer. It was unheard of for someone to progress that quickly to the bench and especially as a woman it was unprecedented. During the first years as a judge, Masipa didn’t received the monitoring program like judges of today. The system did not allow for such training as it does now. Masipa still thinks that a longer period of monitoring would be beneficial for future judges and feels a longer six month program should be made available to better help judges know how best to act as judges.
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