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Magistrates challenge Ramaphosa’s decision on salaries

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The regional court magistrates have voiced their displeasure that their salaries are not keeping up with the workload.

HUNDREDS of regional court magistrates are unhappy with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to award them a below inflation salary increase, which they complain effectively reduced their pay substantially.

The regional court magistrates, who are members of the Association of Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa (ARMSA), have voiced their displeasure that their salaries are not keeping up with the workload, which has significantly increased since 2010 after regional courts were “bestowed civil jurisdiction.”

Ramaphosa increased regional magistrates’ salaries by 2.8% earlier this year after the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers recommended a 4% pay hike.

ARMSA, which represents three quarters or 270 regional magistrates in the country, has described Ramaphosa’s decision as irrational and has resolved to take it on judicial review.

The association has also questioned what it described as a reduction of regional court magistrates’ salaries and stated that their pay has been reduced by Ramaphosa and his predecessors since 2008 through adjustments lower than the commission’s recommendations and inflation.

According to ARMSA, regional magistrates’ salaries have increased at percentages below inflation since 2010.

“The compounding effect thereof has caused a substantial reduction in remuneration in real terms, which in our view is contrary to the provision contained in section 12(6) of the Magistrates Act,” states ARMSA president and regional magistrate Jonathan Ratshibvumo in documents obtained by Independent Media.

In terms of the Magistrates Act, salaries of magistrates cannot be reduced except by Act of Parliament and their increases cannot be backdated for more than a year.

Regional magistrates want the erosive effect of inflation upon the remuneration of all public office bearers to be addressed through cost of living adjustments by Ramaphosa and the commission, which reports to the Presidency.

ARMSA said the regional court is an intermediate court between district and high courts and adjudicates the vast majority of serious crimes on a daily basis.

In March, Ramaphosa’s approval of the 2.8% increase set salaries of regional court presidents at R1.47 million a year, up from R1.43m in 2019 while regional magistrates’ salaries improved from about R1.29m to above R1.32m annually.

The lowest paid magistrate earns just over R1m while special grade chief magistrates get more than R1.47m.

The Magistrates Commission, a statutory body, has backed magistrates’ complaints about their remuneration.

“Although the morale of the magistracy deteriorated since 2009, mainly a result of their remuneration, benefits, tools of trade etc. It has never been this critically low,” stated Chris Barnard, head of the commission’s judicial quality assurance office.

Barnard also indicated that the major review of the remuneration of public office bearers in the judiciary has been outstanding since 2016.

According to Barnard, chief, senior and control prosecutors as well as deputy directors of public prosecutions have been earning more than regional court presidents, chief, senior and regional court magistrates with over 40 years of service.

In October, the North Gauteng High Court forced the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to comply with a 2010 Government Gazette notice stating that dozens of senior prosecutors were entitled to salary increases.

The NPA is appealing the ruling, which rectified the anomaly in which junior prosecutors were paid more than their seniors in some cases.