Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has provisionally suspended Umlazi acting Regional Magistrate Kholeka Bodlani pending the outcome of an investigation into her fitness to hold office as a magistrate.
According to the department, Bodlani’s matter was referred to the Minister by the Magistrates’ Commission following numerous concerns about her judgments involving sexual assault victims.
“A judicial quality assessment of Ms Bodlani’s work revealed serious irregularities and shortcomings, most notably that a number of her cases had to be sent on special review in terms of section 304(4) of the Criminal Procedure Act as several serious shortcomings and incompetent sentences were imposed by her. She was allocated to the Sexual Offences Court and dealt with cases of child victims who were raped by adults and the prescribed minimum sentence for such offences is life imprisonment. In almost all the finalised cases which were assessed, Ms Bodlani imposed sentences where the accused were cautioned or strongly reprimanded or wholly suspended,” said Lamola in a statement.
The suspended sentences she imposed were found to have been both incompetent and incomplete, Lamola said on Wednesday.
“After a substantial number of Ms Bodlani’s judgments went on special review to the High Court, the reviewing judges raised serious questions as to her suitability for judicial office.
“They found the sentences she imposed as, amongst others, “incorrect for incompleteness, incompetent, outrageous, disturbing to the extreme, shockingly inappropriate and completely contrary to the very factors relevant to sentencing,” he said.
“Our judicial officers must display the highest levels of competency and ability. If they do not, it has the potential to undermine the administration of justice and may result in the community and the public in general losing faith in the ability of the courts to dispense fair and appropriate justice,” said Lamola.
He said a report in which the provisional suspension and the reasons, therefore, are made known, must, in terms of section 13(3)(b) of the Act, be tabled in Parliament by the Minister within seven days of such suspension.
In January, Bodlani reportedly set free a man accused of raping a teenage girl because he carried a bag, styled his hair and did the washing — which, the magistrate said, meant he must be gay and “not interested in women”.
This was not the only questionable ruling by Bodlani, and all have since been overturned reportedly by two provincial judges.