Judicial skills pivotal in the administration of justice

September 1st, 2018

Participants at the Law Society of South Africa’s Legal Education and Development division and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers Judicial Skills workshop in East London in July. The judges who facilitated the training are in the front row.

By Barbara Whittle

Opening the Judicial Skills workshop in East London in July, the Judge President of the Eastern Cape Division, Selby Mbenenge impressed on participants that judgeship is not about social status but about serving the community. He said: ‘We converge here this week with a view to honing the skills of all who are pivotal in the administration of justice. In other words, when we hone our skills as lawyers we do so because our main objective is to improve and enhance our legal system. Much as you will benefit from your attendance, the constituency that we all serve is the paramount, ultimate beneficiary.’

The workshop was presented jointly by the Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA) Legal Education and Development (LEAD) division and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL).

Referring to acting appointments, Judge President Mbenenge noted that he had been ‘nudged’ by practitioners who wanted to be recommended for appointment as acting judges. He said: ‘I must say that is not a dispensation I revere at all. I have simply referred such individual applicants to their professional bodies and requested that such bodies furnish me with names of persons they regard worth considering for acting judgeship. In my view, we become judges because others see in us qualities for being judges, than otherwise. More often than not others resort to judgeship because their practices seem to not be doing well and seek security of tenure. That is a self-serving reason, which none of us should cherish. More often than not those who keep ducking and diving, postponing availing themselves for acting judgeship prove to be the ones worthy of consideration for judicial appointment.’

The aim of the workshop was to equip legal practitioners with the technical and soft skills required of a judicial officer. The high-level workshop, facilitated by serving judges, offered both formal lectures and practical activities, which allowed the participants to come to grips with the demanding life of a judicial officer and test their ability to apply their knowledge practically. Twenty-five candidates were selected to attend this course, with preference given to practitioners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Makgoka JA, Legodi JP, Mbenenge JP, Ledwaba DJP, Roberson J, Bloem J, Tokota J and Jolwana J who not only facilitated the course, but also assisted with the curriculum design to ensure that training achieved the desired outcome.

LSSA Co-chairpersons Ettienne Barnard and Mvuzo Notyesi (who is also President of NADEL) addressed participants at the opening ceremony of the course. They congratulated the participants on their selection to attend the course and also impressed on them to use the skills that they would acquire to serve the public with dignity and diligence.

In a statement, NADEL said: ‘The Judicial Skills workshop is one of the intervention strategies by NADEL to ensure that the pool of candidates for judicial appointment is widened, especially to accommodate candidates from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.
NADEL, in partnership with the LSSA LEAD, are adding to the commendable initiatives and projects of the Chief Justice through South African Judicial Education Institute. These initiatives become more relevant as black practitioners are still battling to access certain types of legal services, if not being denied briefs at all by the conservative white capital, which remain preferring white practitioners. The briefing patterns in this country remain a major stumbling block to transformation as black practitioners remain side-lined by corporate business and, to some extent, by government itself as it often prefers white male practitioners for lucrative work. The black practitioners are largely excluded and remain intellectually undermined though expected in terms of the Constitution to avail themselves for judicial appointment.’

Barbara Whittle, Communication Manager, Law Society of South Africa, barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (September) DR 12.