End paralysis in justice sector

End paralysis in justice sector

THE strike action by magistrates last week resulted in the paralysis in the delivery of justice in our lower courts.
It was the clearest indication that our judiciary is in the throes of a deep crisis.
We must quickly acknowledge though that the issues that sparked the industrial action by the magistrates are nothing new. They have been known for years.
Yet it would appear there has been inertia and a shocking lack of urgency in addressing their concerns over the last decade.

Successive governments have come and gone without tackling the fundamental issues that the magistrates raised last week.
Now it appears the magistrates can no longer hold on.

There is a general feeling among the magistrates that their grievances have not been taken seriously. Instead they have been conveniently ignored.
That leaves the government and particularly the current Minister of Justice Mokhele Moletsane with one option — to reassure the magistrates that their grievances are receiving the utmost attention from the highest levels.

Unless Moletsane does so, he will find it very difficult to bridge the trust deficit between him and the striking magistrates.
Chief among the magistrates’ grievances are what they have labelled the pathetic salaries that have remained uncompetitive for decades.
Despite doing the bulk of the “donkey work” in the lower courts, magistrates say they are only getting slightly half of what High Court judges are paid.
That sounds patently unfair.

The magistrates have also raised the issue of security. They say they deal with court cases in the lower courts and interact with criminals directly. They are in the ‘front-line’ in delivering justice to the people.
They want the government to provide them with decent housing so they do not rent houses from individuals they would have jailed.

We believe the issue of their welfare and safety must receive urgent attention from the government. This government should not fail to look after its own.
All they are asking for is a living wage to allow them to do their work. A happy and contented magistracy is key to delivering justice to Basotho.
It is not as if the magistrates are asking to live large. All they want is the barest minimum to allow them to do their work. Surely, the government can accede to their demands.
It might not be able to address all their concerns at once but we believe it can do something to show that it is committed to addressing these grievances which have been kicking around for over a decade.

The government’s concerns about budgetary concerns are well understood. But we believe there is much pilferage and leakages that should be stopped within the government systems. Once stopped, those resources can be channelled towards salvaging the justice sector.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro has in the past spoken about the need to cut unnecessary travel by government officials.
He has spoken about the need to trim the huge delegations that go on foreign trips.
Such cuts might appear small and insignificant, yet we believe they will contribute a lot to saving critical funds that should be channelled towards the justice sector.

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