Magistrate gets marching ordersBy: WERNER MENGES
THE magistrate who stood at the centre of a courtroom battle between the Magistrates’ Commission and the Minister of Justice which was fought all the way up to the Supreme Court was finally dismissed from her post at the end of last week.
Magistrate Leah Shaanika’s last day at the office was on Friday, the Chief: Lower Courts in the Ministry of Justice, Petrus Unengu, confirmed yesterday.
Shaanika was informed last week that the Minister of Justice has decided to dismiss her from her post with effect from June 30, the Control Magistrate for the Windhoek district, Rina Horn, also told The Namibian yesterday.
Shaanika received Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana’s dismissal letter on Thursday, Horn said. That was a week after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Justice Minister against a High Court judgement, handed down on July 15 2010, in which the Minister was ordered to axe Shaanika from her position as magistrate within seven days.
Horn said partly-heard cases which have been left behind by Shaanika would have to be heard afresh before another magistrate.
She said she was aware of twelve criminal cases which were heard by Shaanika and have not yet been finalised. The Prosecutor-General would now have to decide whether those cases will be prosecuted again, Horn said.
Horn added that she is still assessing how many District Labour Court cases and domestic violence matters have not been finalised before Shaanika. These cases would also have to be heard from the start by another magistrate if the parties involved decide to continue with those legal processes.
Shaanika was found guilty on six charges of misconduct after a disciplinary hearing, which she did not attend, in late October 2007.
The Magistrates’ Commission recommended to the Justice Minister on January 24 2008 that Shaanika should be dismissed with effect from February 1 2008.
After Iivula-Ithana had failed for a year to act on the Commission’s recommendation or on follow-up requests that she should act, the Commission launched a case against the Minister and Shaanika in the High Court in early 2009.
Only the Justice Minister opposed the application.
In its judgement on June 21, the Supreme Court found that the Magistrates Act does not leave the Justice Minister with a discretion whether to carry out a recommendation from the Magistrates’ Commission for the dismissal of a magistrate.
A crucial section of the Magistrates Act stipulates that if the Magistrates’ Commission “recommends to the Minister that a magistrate be dismissed on the ground of misconduct (. . . ) the Minister must dismiss the magistrate from office”.
The Supreme Court found that the law does not require the Minister to concur with the recommendation of the Magistrates’ Commission, and that this arrangement is in tune with the constitutional ideal of judicial independence.
Shaanika’s dismissal was criticised from the far left of the political spectrum yesterday.
“We reject the wrongful dismissal of Magistrate Leah Shaanika and the relentless persecution she has to face from the most depraved individuals and organisations,” the leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party, Hewat Beukes, said in a statement which was issued yesterday.
“The singular purpose of the vicious manhunt on Shaanika was that she administrated the Labour Act – the most material gain for the Namibian workers – with singular integrity hitherto,” Beukes charged.
“(T)he dismissal of Shaanika will be removing the last hope of the workers of this country to find marginal protection against the greed and corruption of their bosses,” he also fumed.