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17 Sep 2014
1:44 pm

Lawyer groups condemn Judge Masipa attacks

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and the Law Society of SA (LSSA) on Wednesday condemned vitriolic comments against Judge Thokozile Masipa following her judgment in the trial of paralympian Oscar Pistorius.

Judge Thokozile Masipa reads her verdict in the murder trial of paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria, Thursday, 11 September 2014. Picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA/Pool

BLA president Busani Mabunda said in a statement that critical comments on the substance of a judgment were healthy in a democratic society.

“BLA is, however, opposed to the types of unprecedented criticisms which are aimed to attack the personal integrity of Judge Masipa in particular and the judiciary in general.”

Masipa acquitted Pistorius of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who he shot dead through a locked toilet door at his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year.

He alleged he mistook her for an intruder.

Pistorius was instead found guilty of culpable homicide.

Mabunda said the negative comments about Masipa could not be rebutted by her as judges could not defend themselves in the media.

“Unfounded suggestions that Judge Masipa has been bribed in order for her to [reach] the decision she did is a serious accusation which undermines our justice system.”

Insults and threats aimed at judges did nothing to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. In a high profile case, such as that of Pistorius, these could result in long-term negative public perception of the country’s courts.

“BLA is more worried because it would appear that the attacks directed to Judge Masipa are so directed to her not because of her in ability to perform her duties as a judge but on account of her being a woman and black.”

Earlier, LSSA co-chairmen Max Boqwana and Ettienne Barnard said in a statement that the organisation joined the Legal Resources Centre, Section 27, and the Centre for Child Law in condemning inappropriate comments made about Masipa’s race and gender, as well as alleged threats against her.

“Judicial officers – judges and magistrates – and legal practitioners must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of attacks on their persons, safety, or work environment, as has been the case also by the recent spate of shootings in courts.”

The LSSA said court judgments were not above scrutiny, but the judgments had to be respected and scrutiny had to be informed, constructive, and based on sound legal principles.

“For that reason we have an appeal procedure in our courts which allows parties, who are of the view that a different judge or court may come to a different conclusion, to apply for leave to appeal,” it said.

“However, personal attacks on the judicial officer and the legal practitioners are not acceptable or appropriate in a country where the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession are paramount,” Boqwana and Barnard said.

Sapa