Decision to move cases from Skukuza was illegal, says judge (South Africa)

By December 7, 2019Anti-poaching, Conservation
The Lowvelder | December 6, 2019

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In a written directive following a meeting last Friday, Mpumalanga Judge President Francis Legodi stated that the decision to move all court cases from Skukuza Periodical Regional Court to Mhala was not legal.

“The decision taken by the Regional Court President, Naomi Engelbrecht, acting director of public prosecutions and chief magistrates on August 28 and October 28, as it appears from the acting director of public prosecutions’ report, and on November 25 as it appears from the Regional Court President’s report, to close Skukuza Court and use it only as a channel court is null and void and of no effect.”

Legodi added that Engelbrecht had no authority and standing in law to review and set aside the decision taken by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo in the exercise of his coordination of judicial functions. “The decision to turn Skukuza into a channel court, is ultra vires (acting or done beyond one’s legal power or authority) the empowering legislative provisions under which Skukuza was appointed by the minister as a place of holding a court.”

Legodi emphasised that Engelbrecht’s decision to move all cases from Skukuza to Mhala, which is almost 100 kilometres away, will “undermine the legislative authority and responsibility to coordinate judicial functions of the lower courts”.

Both Legodi and Mlambo previously directed that Regional Court matters to be trialled in Skukuza Court shall not be transferred to and heard in Mhala. Despite this, Engelbrecht allegedly still ordered magistrates at the court to refer all cases to Mhala up to the point, in October, when there were no cases left in Skukuza.

Legodi launched an investigation into the matter. “It has always been my view that courts must be brought closer to the victims of crime for obvious reasons, and this is still my view, which has been made clear to relevant stakeholders in the past.”

Elise Daffue of Stop Rhino Poaching said that Legodi’s “firm stance and leadership has averted what would have been a harsh and sinister blow to the anti-poaching effort nationally”.

Lowvelder tried to contact Engelbrecht for comment, but she had not returned any calls at the time of going to press.
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