What it means to be a judge tackled at Judicial Skills Training course

September 1st, 2017

Practitioners attending the LSSA/NADEL judicial skills training course in Pietermaritzburg in July together with some on the trainers, including Judge President Frans Legodi of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court. Judge Kate Pillay and Judge Pete Koen from the KwaZulu-Natal High Court also provided training.

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

The Legal Education and Development (LEAD) division of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), together with the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, held this year’s first judicial skills training course for attorneys in Pietermaritzburg in late July. The six-day training aims to empower attorneys by introducing them to the skills required of judicial officers. This also assists attorneys in knowing what is expected from them as judicial officers.

Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge, Yvonne Mbatha – a former attorney – delivered an opening address at the training. She acknowledged the significant role played by LSSA Chief Executive Officer, Nic Swart, LEAD and the LSSA in the education of attorneys. ‘As a former attorney myself, I extensively relied on the legal resources and educational material provided by LEAD,’ she said.

Judge Mbatha spoke about what it means to be a judge and said that this question should always be at the back of the mind of every judge, and more particularly someone aspiring to become a judge.  ‘Being a judge is not something that should be taken very lightly or merely as some kind of a social status,’ she said.

Judge Mbatha said that South African courts and judicial officers are bound by the Constitution and by their oath of office to apply the law impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice. She added that a judge is regarded as a community leader because of those attributes, and also because judges cannot command respect if they do not uphold the rule of law and behave in a manner unbefitting of their office.

According to Judge Mbatha ‘dignity and respect does not arise from being feared, but from humility and hard work. These attributes are earned by giving people an opportunity to state their case before you, in order for you as a judge to weigh both sides of the story first before giving a ruling or judgment.’

Judge Mbatha said that good ethics are paramount and should be second nature to a judicial officer.  She noted: ‘Ethics do not only relate to how you behave outside the court, but also require that you treat litigants, colleagues and counsel with dignity, respect and impartiality. Matters should not be forejudged, but rather counsels’ arguments should first be listened to, as many a time they may have a valid point.’

Judge Mbatha dealt with recusal and explained that a judge should recuse themselves if they have an interest in the matter before them; if it is a matter that they had dealt with before being elevated onto the Bench, or where they have personal knowledge about the parties or the facts of the case.

Judge Mbatha concluded by saying: ‘For a judge to be able to give effect to her or his mandate, she or he must know the law, must keep abreast with the developments in the law, must know what is expected of her or him. Judges read extensively; they research their matters and apply their minds to the facts before them. It is, therefore, important that as aspirant judges, you also update your IT skills as processes will soon be done online. This is part and parcel of your skills.’

The LSSA/NADEL Judicial Skills Training course will also be held in Gauteng in early October.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele, Communications Officer, Law Society of South Africa, nomfundom@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Sept) DR 18.