Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

A major problem at our regional courts is that prosecutors and magistrates have often not done articles or passed the attorneys admission exam, so they  sometimes do not have the confidence to argue with high-powered defence lawyers like the top advocate who was recently instrumental in securing the acquittal of four men charged with extorting money from a Cape Town Waterfront restaurant.

Someone practising law in the private sector usually spends five years at university getting a three-year undergraduate degree as well as a two-year LLB, and works for two years as an articled clerk before writing the attorneys admission exam, which has an extremely high failure rate.

In contrast, a regional court prosecutor or magistrate usually does a less challenging four-year LLB degree and writes a less challenging entrance exam before doing 12 months of additional in-house training.

The situation becomes even more serious when the defence attorney brings in a senior advocate or silk, who must have at least 10 years’ experience and is appointed by the president after being nominated by the Bar Council. They have a status similar to that of a judge and have often served as acting judges — and therefore have higher status than magistrates. Simply put, they are the superstars of the legal profession; magistrates and prosecutors are often reluctant to challenge their opinions.

Perhaps the solution lies in transferring serious matters involving well-resourced defendants and members of organised crime to the high court. Taking a knife to a gunfight is not the way to go.

Terence Grant
Cape Town