My greatest desire is to work as a Criminologist one day. In order to realise that dream, I have embarked on a BA Criminology degree through Unisa. My specific interest is in analysing and understanding the behaviour of sexual predators and serial killers. I would like to work as a Profiler and follow in the footsteps of people like Micki Pistorius and others.
Today, part of my dream was realised. How? I had to spend the day in court to observe a court case for one of my assignments. I would have liked to have observed a sexual abuse or domestic violence case but was not able to because of the sensitivity and confidentiality aspect of the victim’s testimony (covered by section 153 of the Criminal Procedure Act). I now had the choice of a civil case or criminal case – decisions, decisions, decisions.
For those who are hooked on court drama series’ like I am (and for those who watch SA soapies), I would like to place on record (this has been confirmed with the State Prosecutor and the Clerk of the Court today)
In the Regional (Magistrate) Court, the Magistrate (presiding officer) is addressed as YOUR WORSHIP
In the High Court, the Judge (presiding officer) is addressed as MY LORD
The term YOUR HONOUR is not used in South African courts. Any South African TV drama or soapie that uses YOUR HONOUR obviously has not done their homework.
Criminal cases are always more exciting than Civil cases so I chose the Criminal Court. I also chose to observe at Wynberg Regional (Magistrates Court) purely because it is one of the busiest courts close to where I live. From the minute I walked through the gates I experienced nothing but warmth and friendliness – from the maintenance/cleaning staff and security right up the ladder to the Magistrate himself.
The State Prosecutor (not on court duty today) who made all the arrangements to get permission for me to observe for the day asked his “right hand person” to take me to the Court and introduce me to everyone. I was told where to sit (right next to the State Prosecutor) and was able to do some informal observation of the interaction between the legal personnel because the first case was delayed. The vehicle transporting the Accused was stuck in traffic on the N2.
During the interlude everyone took turns to chat to me as well and everyone expressed surprise that I was not doing an LLB degree but rather doing a BA Criminology. It appears that nobody present knew that a BA Criminology even existed. In the past, all those wanting to specialise in Criminology, had to complete an LLB Degree i.e. qualify as a Lawyer/Attorney and then do an extra year to specialise as a Criminologist. Unisa has now simplified the process and introduced a pure BA Criminology degree so there is no need to go the LLB route first.
Back to court proceedings – The Clerk of the Court now doubles up as the Stenographer as well. He is completing a BA Communication Science degree (would be equivalent to a Journalism degree). Everything is now electronic so you no longer have a pretty lady sitting behind a very funny looking machine typing away. The machine looks like a huge desk top photocopy machine with two big red lights on top. The machine automatically records what is being said in the room so no typing is actually done in the court room anymore.
I was given permission to observe cases in Court A and managed to observe three cases purely because each case ended up being postponed.
The Magistrate was a man after my own heart as well – very straight forward and to the point. A no nonsense man who does not take s***t from anybody. Being very much an Afrikaaner, most of the proceedings in the court today was in Afrikaans – being my second language, I felt very much at home.
Once all the parties arrived at Court, the first case ended up being postponed because the Accused was not able to pay the Attorney all the money due and is unable to continue paying so the Attorney chose to withdraw from the case because he is not willing to work Pro Bono. This case took approximately 20 minutes from start to end (purely because the Attorney was long-winded). This could have been wrapped up in 5 minutes.
The second case (I thought I had died and gone to heaven, because it was a sexual abuse case). Unfortunately, this case was also postponed because the Accused, once again, did not come to Court. This took approximately 5 minutes from start to end – a matter of the Accused has not arrived AGAIN so this matter has been postponed to . . .
The third case I was able to observe was a hijacking/armed robbery that took place in Ottery recently. The owner of a business in Ottery, Western Cape and the Manager were held up at gun point shortly after the owner returned to the business from the bank with the wages to pay the staff. Four African Black men were being accused of the crime – the victims were two White men. Accused 1 and 4 shared an Attorney and Accused 2 and 3 shared an Attorney. The case ended up being postponed because the Attorney representing Accused 2 and 3 withdrew from the case because he was receiving conflicting instructions from each accused and he decided because he could not chose to represent one rather than the other because it would be unethical, he rather withdrew from the case. The decision was then that Accused 2 and 3 should each get their own Attorney so that there were no ethical issues involved and they were instructed to return to Court on 20th August 2012 with their new Attorneys. Accused 1 and 2 will remain in custody until 20th August 2012. Court was adjourned at around 12:30 and because there were no further cases for this Court for today, it was the end of my court day.
I really had a wonderful time today. Being in court is radically different to the way it is portrayed in the movies and on TV. The movies and TV over dramatizes the court scenes and most of them don’t do their research or don’t do adequate research before going on air.
I’m not sure how many people actually read my blogs but I would like to say thank you to everyone who made this day possible. I will not mention names because you know who you are. It was a real eye-opener. I learnt so much and made a few good contacts.