Home South African Magistrate who sentenced robber under fire for ‘personal views’

Magistrate who sentenced robber under fire for ‘personal views’

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A magistrate was criticised by a high court judge for citing his own experience of encounters with house robbers in his home while he was adjudicating a robbery case.

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A MAGISTRATE was criticised by a high court judge for citing his own experience of encounters with house robbers in his home while he was adjudicating a robbery case.

The rebuke came during the appeal hearing of a robber against a 25-year prison sentence handed down to him by the magistrate.

The North West Division of the High Court, sitting in Mafikeng, warned that judicial officers should not be blinded by their own experiences when sentencing accused persons.

In this case, the high court lowered the 25-year jail sentence to 12 years.

This followed an appeal by convicted housebreaker and Mozambican citizen Alfred Gwambe, who was also convicted on a charge of being in the country illegally.

He had pleaded guilty to the two charges and explained how he and two friends broke into a house and stole several goods.

In sentencing Gwambe, the magistrate commented that housebreaking was very serious and painful for the victims. He mentioned that he himself had twice been the victim of housebreaking.

The magistrate went on to describe how painful it was when someone either falls victim to robbery while sleeping in their own bed or if they get home to find it in a mess after it was broken into.

Citing his own experience, he said: “When you go inside you become so shocked – to such an extent you do not know if you are dreaming or what.”

He went on about how expensive it was to replace one’s stolen goods – if they were not insured – while the thieves sold them “at a song”.

“You are a loser because now you have to start from fresh,” the magistrate told the robber, adding that it was worse if one had children as they become traumatised when a robbery happens.

“And to show that people are tired of housebreakings they even leave snakes inside the house. You go there, you jump inside, then you are a good feast for that snake (sic).

“We are really, really, really tired of people coming from Gauteng to come and break into our houses in Potchefstroom,” the magistrate added.

The magistrate further commented that, “every day we have cases of housebreaking, caused by Mozambican citizens. These people from there, come here and do whatever they want in South Africa.”

The high court, on appeal, cited another judge in a similar case, who said: “A judicial officer should not approach punishment in a spirit of anger because being a human being that will make it difficult for him to achieve that delicate balance between the crime, the criminal and the interest of society, which is his task and the objects of punishment demand of him.”

In lowering the sentence of the offender, the court said a judicial officer should strive to exercise control as, “Personal experience and prejudices can blunt his judgment and create an impression of enmity or prejudice in the person against whom it is directed, particularly when such person is an accused person.”

The court warned that the judicial officer’s personal feelings may undermine the proper course of justice and lead to a miscarriage of justice.

“A judicial officer can only perform his demanding and socially important duty properly if he also stands guard over himself, mindful of his own weaknesses and personal views and whims and controls them.”

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