Wesbank

Exposed: Judges disgruntled, unhappy

SHARE   |   Monday, 16 October 2017   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo

A top secret report on the welfare of High Court judges, which was presented to Government and President Ian Khama through the minister of defence, justice and security, has revealed appalling conditions and serious security risks under which esteemed judicial officers are forced to work. In the report, seen by The Patriot on Sunday, the judges concluded that the nature of their duties is such that it requires their undivided attention at all times. They argued that by virtue of the sensitive and extra ordinary nature of their work their attention cannot be constantly divided between issues that involve their welfare and issues that require their full application as they make determinations with far reaching consequences on the lives of litigants appearing before them. "Judges need to feel safe, secure and reasonably comfortable in the performance of their duties. They neither want to feel undermined by the very structures which have created their office by failing to recognise and honour their obligations in providing that which is required. The Judges of the High Court’s current situation and living conditions are in some instances appalling and expose some to serious security risks outside the confines of their office environment," reads part of the report.  

Welfare committee

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Judges are by virtue of office provided with a number of benefits commonly known as Entitlements. Some of these form part of their contract of Employment. In 2015 Judges of the High Court held several meetings with the view to assess their conditions of service and in particular those relating to their welfare which hampers service delivery and compromises their integrity as Judges. Their numerous meetings ultimately led to the establishment of a Judges Welfare Committee appointed as a focus group mandated to represent the entire constituency of Judges and table some of their major concerns before Government and President Ian Khama. At the centre of the Judges disgruntlement is the inadequacy of funding from central government which has resulted in a number of their Entitlements not being met and secondly the disparity in the entitlements extended to Judges of the Industrial Court which are for some inexplicable reasons not made available to them, even though they both hold and perform the functions of the office of Judge in terms of the Constitution. The establishment of the Judges of the High Court has grown and expanded over the years. The High Court Bench which is fully localised currently comprises of 23 Judges, nine at the High Court Gaborone; Seven at the Lobatse High Court and Seven at the Francistown High Court. "This growth in the establishment has regrettably not been supported by a corresponding increase in the budget allocated to the Administration of Justice. Most of the Judges have as direct consequence of this development been denied full enjoyment of the entitlements due and owed to them by virtue of office," reads the report.

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Transport

The report shows that judges complained that most of the vehicles they use are old and not in a serviceable state as most were due to be boarded by C.T.O. Whilst some of the Judges’ vehicles have long been boarded they have to date not been replaced resulting in the affected Judges either having to share transport or to borrow from one another. Some of the vehicles used by the Judges have had to be taken from the support staff fleet to augment the Judges’ transport needs. The makes of the vehicles in use by the Judges were found not standard or uniform, but a mix of Toyota Corollas, Mahindras and old S60 Volvos. "The types and status of some of these vehicles which are essentially ordinary cars do not in the least befit the status of individuals chauffeured in them. Judges have failed to understand this marked disparity in their treatment by government when it comes to the allocation of suitable official vehicles given their position. The Judges have further noted that the use of vehicles which do not distinguish them from other more Junior Government officers has resulted in Judges being deprived of the recognition and respect they deserve at official gatherings. The Judges in this regard are requesting  Government  for purposes of uniformity to revise the type and model of their official cars with the view to ensure that they use good quality, safe and suitable vehicles which are neither borrowed, low level brand nor of mixed type," the judges complained bitterly. They said whilst it is appreciated that Government may be experiencing serious financial constraints, such cannot be argument tenable enough to risk the safety of the Judges on already dangerous roads. Some of the Judges are resident in Gaborone and have to be chauffer driven daily between Gaborone and the High Court in Lobatse. On account of the poor quality of vehicles and their unreliability some of the Judges have en-route to work on numerous occasions experienced breakdowns and had to rely on the support of family members to drive them to and from work at their own expense, the judges wrote. In other instances some Judges have had to postpone the hearing of cases or had to start court late for lack of reliable transport, reads part of the report.

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Judges also note in the report that this does not only expose them to unparalleled risk but does not reflect well on the ability of the Judiciary to take proper care of its Judges nor on the integrity, image and reputation of the Judiciary. Due to the limited fleet allocated to the AoJ, the organisation has often found it extremely difficult to provide alternative transport to Judges as and when their vehicles are attended to for service by the CTO. This has in some instances compelled some Judges to personally and directly engage with the CTO to avail alternative transport services to them for the periods when their official vehicles are unavailable. "These are some of the acts of desperation some honourable Judges have to delve into to secure transport. It is totally unacceptable for Judges to be pushed to these lengths to gain assistance," judges cried. Additionally, judges pointed to the running and maintenance costs of the Volvo fleet, which they said are prohibitive. They also complained bitterly about the workmanship at Volvo motor dealer (Barloworld), saying it had not been satisfactory resulting in motor vehicles being retained for inordinately long periods by the garage. Comparatively, the judges observed, the maintenance plan for the BMW Series is five (5) years coinciding with the 5-year life span of Government vehicles. "Government is in the premise enjoined to provide a full fleet of new, safe and good quality cars for all the High Court Judges. The Judges have collectively indicated that their preferred and recommended model of car for official use should be the BMW – 5 Series," they proposed.

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Accommodation

The report reads: "Most of the official houses allocated to our Judges especially in Lobatse and Francistown have serious structural defects rendering them unsuitable and unsafe for the Judges. The issue of the state of repair of these houses has repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Department of Building and Engineering Services (DBES) for the necessary maintenance and repair works that would restore them to a habitable state. Most of the interventions by DBES have failed dismally to restore the said houses to a habitable state for the use and undisturbed enjoyment by the Judges. Premised on the above the Judges of the High Court request Government to ensure the provision of suitable, safe and habitable residential accommodation. Whilst acknowledging and appreciating Governments recent efforts of alleviating Judges accommodation problem, it has been observed that some of the Ministerial houses which have since been allocated for use by High Court Judges in Gaborone will  require major maintenance works at a huge cost to Government. The Judges of the High Court have further expressed concern regarding the low housing allowance paid to them. Since Housing is an entitlement where same is unavailable, market related executive housing allowance should be paid instead".

Furniture

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A Benchmarking assignment to the Industrial Court on Judges Entitlements, conducted by some of the members of the Judges Welfare Committee revealed that Judges of the Industrial Court were provided with fully furnished houses. Most of the furniture currently in use by the majority of the Judges of the High Court is old whilst in some instances none has been provided and where it has been provided it is totally incomplete and in some instances it had been handed down after use by other Judges who have long left service or died. Failure by government to provide the Judges with a full complement of their entitlements as provided for in their terms and conditions of service and employments contracts and therefore fulfil its obligation to provide that which the Judges are legitimately entitled to, borders on breach of contract and lack of good faith in government’s relations with them as an employer, the judges said. "The Judges of the High Court pursuant to their contractual entitlement request the government to honour its obligations by ensuring that they are provided with all the furniture they are entitled to as well as to address and close any gaps in the management of this entitlement between the Industrial Court and High Court for purposes of uniformity and parity," they said. Records show that some Judges of the High Court have from the date of assumption of duty  never been issued with a full set of their furniture entitlements on account of limited financial resources allocated to the Administration of Justice consequently making it almost impossible each financial year to meet its obligation towards the Judges. This state of affairs has seriously created a serious strain and an unhealthy working relations between the organisation’s support staff and the Judges who hold the firm view that, there is lack of will and commitment on the part of those vested with the responsibility to ensure that their needs are met to convince Government to provide adequate funding for the procurement of the same. The Administration of Justice has over the years tried all means possible to rationalise the limited budget allocated to it annually, to meet the entitlements of the judges but not much has been achieved. The above has put into question the government’s credibility in respecting the office of Judges of the High Court and in particular its ability to take proper care of their welfare. "Government is against this background asked to provide the Administration of Justice with adequate funding so as to enable the organisation to procure the necessary furniture for the Judges in fulfilment of its contractual obligations. This would go a long way in reinforcing and supporting government’s efforts of enhancing public confidence in the Judiciary. Failure to win the confidence from its own judges would only serve to put into question its sincerity if it can’t meet the basic needs of the very key cogs of its Judiciary," the judges said. 

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Courtroom apparel 

At the time of the report some Judges had never had the full complement of their duty apparel from their date of appointment. A full set of the Judges Courtroom apparel and ceremonial robing comprise of the following: Red Robes, Black Robes, White Bibs, White special tailored Judges shirts (Men), White special tailored blouses (Women), White Gloves, Ceremonial wig, Sashes, Set of Pin stripped Grey Trousers, Set of Waist coats, Set of pin striped grey skirts. It is the entitlement of each Judge of the High Court to be provided with a full set of Court room apparel and different ceremonial regalia. The Judges noted that Courtroom apparel and accessories is quite an expensive and an exclusive type of clothing and neither available nor catered for in any clothing retail shops (around). "Government has not made provision for a separate vote or budget allocation for the acquisition of the Judges Court apparel. They have had to share the negligible budget provisions intended for industrial class staff and other members of the support staff who require uniform or protective clothing as part of their day to day activities such as overalls for staff working in the Registries. The budget allocation for this vote has remained unchanged for a long time consequently remaining oblivious of the continuing growth of the Judiciary and its needs. The sharing of this vote with other uniform requirements of the organisation has resulted in some Judges having to use some other Judges and used Court room attire. Premised on the above Government is asked to ensure that a separate and dedicated vote for the Judges Court Room apparel is created and sufficiently financed to meet the Judges Court apparel needs or in the alternative to increase the current allocation for this vote in recognition of the various categories of the employees of the Administration of Justice it has to provide for including Judges.

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Gardening services

The Judges plead with Government to extend the provision of paid for or subsidised gardening services at their residences, a benefit currently enjoyed by Judges of the Industrial Court. Currently Judges of the High Court rely on privately secured gardening services from individuals and companies as their own out of pocket expense. 



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