Historical moment as Mpumalanga Division of the High Court holds its first sitting

June 13th, 2019
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

On 13 May, the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court held its first sitting of the permanent seats of the Division in Mbombela and Middleburg. Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Francis Legodi, gave a speech and presided over the first sitting of the newly built High Court, in Mbombela. In his speech, Judge President Legodi said the event was not the official opening of the Mpumalanga Division, as the court will officially be opened by President Cyril Ramaphosa later this year.

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Francis Legodi, speaking at the first sitting of the newly built Mpumalanga High Court in Mbombela on 13 May.

Judge President Legodi, said the wait for the building of the new court was a long one. ‘There was a time when I thought this building would be opened when I am retired. But today dear guests we can confidently say that the outside and inside of the building is going to reflect the inside and outside beauty of people who will be working in this building. These are men and women who will know no status, no title and no position. This will be men and women who will see each other as equals and every person as important,’ Judge President Legodi added.

Judge President Legodi pointed out that the oath that judicial officers take, remains to be an undertaking that they have made to the people of South Africa (SA) in which judicial officers will exercise their judicial functions without fear, favour or prejudice, and they are guided only by the facts of each case and the applicable law. ‘We will do this to protect our own integrity as judicial officers, but most importantly we will do this to protect the integrity of the institution that we are representing,’ Judge President Legodi said.

Judge President Legodi added: ‘As for today’s function, we have invited you to join us in a walk about through and around the court, so that when you go back to your villages you can tell others that access to justice is now being delivered in this wonderful building of ours. In that way we hope that the building is officially opened and handed over to the end users, these people will take pride and ownership in the building.’

Former Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha said that in 2013 Parliament passed the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 in terms of which each of the nine provinces in SA must have a High Court. He said since the Act was implemented the Department of Justice had been hard at work in the last administration to establish the two divisions that were remaining, namely, the Limpopo Division that was opened in 2016 and the Mpumalanga Division, which was still under construction. On 1 May the Minister of  Justice issued a proclamation in terms of which the operationalisation of the Mpumalanga High Court could come into effect and since then the necessary work was completed, which led up to the day of the first sitting of the court.

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Francis Legodi, with former Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, during a tour at the newly built Mpumalanga High Court.

Mr Masutha said the people of Mpumalanga will no longer have to take their matters to the Gauteng Division in Pretoria to be heard there. ‘The Judge President did mention that there are matters already on the roll at both Mbombela and the Middleburg court. My coming here was to satisfy myself that everything is in place for this court to function properly,’ Mr Masutha said. He noted that subsequent to the Superior Courts Act being implemented the president had the responsibility to create the establishment of the court and to declare positions for judges open, so that those positions can be filled.

‘At this stage the President declared nine judge positions, in addition to having that happen, I wrote to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, requesting that he invites all members of the judiciary in SA to volunteer to constitute the first block of judges who would come here by way of transfer and so far, only four judges volunteered to be transferred to the Mbombela court.  These judges are acting until the president formally appoints them in that position. He added that on 2 May he appointed the acting Deputy Provincial Prosecutor of Mpumalanga, to enable the National Prosecuting Authority to operate under the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court. He said the Department of Justice will be conferring with Judge President Legodi about any other challenges he might be facing, because the role of the Department of Justice is to distribute administrative support to the court to make sure it functions optimally.

Invited guests and media, joined Mr Masutha and Judge President Legodi on a tour of the court. After the tour Judge President Legodi presided over two criminal matters.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.