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Administering justice with fairness and compassion

Administering justice to all people alike without fear, favour or prejudice, in accordance with the Constitution and the law, is what is expected of magistrates and judges. However, it is heartening to know that there are legal office bearers who are com- mitted not only to these values, but also to making a difference in the lives of ordinary people through their work.

Having a caring heart and always being considerate of the interests of her fellow man, especially the vulnerable people in society, are what make Mari von Hoesslin (37) stand out.

Von Hoesslin has been delivering sound judgments as a magistrate at the Palm Ridge Magistrates Court in Ekurhuleni since August 2014.

After completing her LLB degree at the University of the Free State, Von Hoesslin was admitted as an attorney on 6 May 2008. In 2010 she established her own law firm, M von Hoesslin Attorneys, as a way of broadening her horizons in the legal field. Even though the practice was doing well, she still longed for something that would enable her to make a difference in society. “My long-term goal was always to be in public service and that is why

I joined the Palm Ridge Magistrate's Court,” she said.

Her love of children and her high regard for fairness and equality have ensured that her hard work makes a positive difference in children’s lives.

“When I was working at a Children’s Court, three little ones appeared before me wearing clothes that were too small for them and full of holes, in the middle of winter. As a mother, I wished I could foster all three children and take care of them. I realised, however, that I cannot be everything to everyone and I had to take a step back and place them in a loving and caring home without overstepping the line. In the end, I did a clothing collection

through my child’s school for these children and handed the items over to the social worker. She sent me pictures of the kids wearing the new, warm clothes with big smiles on their faces. Getting confirmation from the social worker that these children were now being taken care of gave me such peace of mind,” she said.

This one good deed inspired Von Hoesslin to continue to assist underprivileged children by collecting clothes which are handed to the presiding officers in the Children’s Court to assist the needy children who pass through the courts on a daily basis. Being kind-hearted does not mean the legal eagle takes lightly her job of protecting the community. She still delivers sound judgments and locks up criminal offenders if warranted.

“As a magistrate in the criminal court, I deal with trials on a daily basis, attend to formal bail appli- cations, set trial dates and ensure proper case-flow management,” she added.

Finalising court cases that involve children who are in conflict with the law, in a way that provides rehabili- tation rather than only punishment, stands out for Von Hoesslin.

“It is my duty to ensure that these children do not end up in the criminal justice system, but rather get the necessary help, counselling and training they need to become bet- ter adults,” she said.

“My goal is to be the best magistrate I can possibly be, and to be an active citizen. I think it is impor- tant to get involved in outreach programmes in your community,” she said, giving as an example the importance of educating members of the community on court services and how not to be in conflict with the law.

Being a magistrate requires one to be a student for life as magis- trates have to keep up with case law and legislation. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, said Von Hoesslin.

“People should not expect this to be a glamorous position as you will always be a public servant with the expectation that you do your job in a professional manner,” she added.

A new R282 million court building was opened in Palm Ridge two years before Von Hoesslin joined the team. At the time, it was one of the largest court structures to be erected in a previously disadvan- taged community.

With its 33 court rooms, it was part of government’s drive to improve court infrastructure, modernise the justice system and ensure improved access to justice for all.

What is a magistrate?

A magistrate adjudicates criminal and civil cases in court.

They have the power to acquit, convict and sentence the accused person if found guilty of committing an offence. Magistrates may also pass judgments in civil matters.

Magistrates are appointed by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development on the recommendations of the Magistrates Commission.

In order to qualify as a magistrate, you need to have an LLB degree as a minimum requirement.

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