Judge President Legodi promises fair and fearless judgments at the Mpumalanga Division

January 15th, 2020
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The Mpumalanga Division of the High Court building situated in Mbombela.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

President Cyril Ramaphosa officially opened the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court in Mbombela on 8 November 2019. At the opening, Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Francis Legodi, said that in 2017 President Ramaphosa expressed the wish to open the building of the Mpumalanga High Court and that dream was realised. Judge President Legodi added that his division was overjoyed with the opening of the court. He pointed out that the beauty of the court is a reflection of the beauty of the people who work in the building.

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Francis Legodi, said the judiciary in Mpumalanga will not be captured. He was speaking at the official opening of the court on 8 November 2019 in Mbombela.

Judge President Legodi told the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille, that it is her responsibility to look after the Mpumalanga High Court. The Judge President also pleaded with President Ramaphosa to make the Mpumalanga High Court a national key point of interest in the province. ‘One does not want to imagine the possibility of any loss and disruption or damage to this wonderful building. Declaring this place, a national key point area will also ensure the security and safety of the people working at this building and those who will be coming to this building for services. I do not think we [are] going to have another state-of-the-art building in this province during our life time,’ Judge President Legodi said.

Judge President Legodi said the beauty of the Mpumalanga High Court building would also be reflected in his division’s judicial performance. ‘As it happens I can gracefully look forward towards my retirement in about four years’ time, when I will be turning 70,’ Judge President Legodi added. He pointed out that he is thankful for the leadership and guidance the judiciary continues to receive from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, including heads of courts and his colleagues. He also thanked retired Judge Presidents Bernard Ngoepe and Dunstan Mlambo for their tireless effort in trying to bring the court closer to the people of Mpumalanga.

Judge President Legodi said: ‘To the people of Mpumalanga, I would like to make this promise to you, we will execute our judicial functions in our courts without fear, favour or prejudice. We will decide cases and apply the law impartially guided by the facts of each case, we will do this to the letter and spirit of the oath of our office, no one will influence us in our judiciary, we make it ours. In other words, no one will capture us.’

A historic day

President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the opening of the Mpumalanga High Court was a historic day and a celebration for the people of Mpumalanga. He added that in many ways the court represents a new era for the people of the province, especially for those who, in the past, had to travel long distances to get access to justice. ‘Until now for the people of this province who’s matters fell outside the jurisdiction of the local magistrates’ courts, had to obtain relief in the High Court in Pretoria. This obviously caused considerable inconvenience and a lot of delays and huge financial hardships,’ President Ramaphosa said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa presented the keynote address at the official opening of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court in Mbombela on 8 November 2019.

President Ramaphosa added that government promised that every province in South Africa (SA) will have well-resourced and capacitated High Courts in line with the provisions of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013. ‘We are here today to fulfil that promise. Ours is a society committed to the advancement of human rights, of which the right to equality before the law to equal protection of the law and benefit of the law, forms a critical part,’ President Ramaphosa said. However, he added that it is not enough that such a right is merely prescribed, for it to be fully effective, government should endeavour to broaden access to the law and ensure that the shelter, the shade of justice is provided to everyone regardless of their social circumstances.

President Ramaphosa noted that since the dawn of democracy in 1994, government has prioritised the reformation of the justice system. He said there have been challenges, such as delays in finalising cases, people having to travel far to reach courts – like the people of Mpumalanga did – and, eroded confidence in the hearts of the citizens in the judicial system. ‘Our courts, as then Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcobo, said in 2010, “make decisions which affect liberty, property and dignity of individuals.” It is, therefore, critical that court proceedings must be accessible and comprehensible to all, but especially society’s most vulnerable,’ President Ramaphosa said.

President Ramaphosa said for over a century the province of Mpumalanga was tied to the notorious Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court in Pretoria, which was established by the Apartheid regime. He added that a number of historic trials took place in what was then known as the Eastern Transvaal and gave the example of the 1977 Bethal trial where 18 political activists where convicted and imprisoned for playing a role in fermenting revolution against the state. He also noted the 1985 Delmas treason trial, which is remembered as one of the longest political trials in South African history, where 11 activists were sentenced to imprisonment, their terms ranging from five to 11 years. He noted that that decision was later overturned by the Appeal Court in 1989. ‘These trials took place under extreme secrecy and were presided over by judges representing an unjust system,’ President Ramaphosa said.

President Ramaphosa said: ‘Today we are opening a court that will administer justice without fear or favour or prejudice in an open and accessible process, that reflects the ethos of our Constitution and I am pleased that Judge President Legodi confirmed this in his input that never and never again will the rights of our people be undermined by the courts as it happened under Apartheid. Today our judiciary is firmly, but also fiercely independent as an arbiter in disputes, it is representative of the people of this country and is committed to upholding constitutionalism.’

On 13 May 2019, the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court held its first sitting, where Judge President Legodi, presided over two criminal matters (see ‘Historical moment as Mpumalanga Division of the High Court hold its first sitting’ 2019 (June) DR).

President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled the plaque at the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court with the help of the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, at the official opening of the court in Mbombela.

 

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