Durban – A Johannesburg advocate who took to social media and hurled profanities at the government and President Cyril Ramaphosa over the “senseless” Covid-19 lockdown regulations, said she has been victimised and bullied for publicly expressing her views.
Advocate Gillian Benson, who served as an acting judge in the Johannesburg High Court, said she did not understand why her views were singled out when a number of “far more prominent” people had expressed their own frustrations and displeasure with the regulations.
She will not return to her acting judge post in June. Spokesperson for the office of the Chief Justice, Nathi Mncube, confirmed that after being alerted to Benson’s utterances on Facebook, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo “immediately discussed the matter with her.
“They agreed that it would be in the best interests of all concerned to have her acting appointment revoked.
“Consequently, she will not be returning to her position of acting judge on June 8,” Mncube said.
Benson’s attorney, Ian Levitt, denied she had been asked to step down.
“She cannot continue with her pro bono work due to the financial constraints the lockdown has imposed on her. She has chosen not to return to this acting position,” said Levitt.
In a statement issued on Monday, Benson admitted to openly criticising the government, saying that she was hugely frustrated and emotionally distraught, “and like many people do, I reacted”.
“I will not apologise for expressing my own view and will continue to do so. The choice of adjectives and nouns that I chose may have been unfortunate, but when an irrational regulation with no basis whatsoever, and clearly with no thought as to the best interests of parents and children, hinders my contact with my own child, I will remain upset and deeply so,” she said.
Benson said she was in the midst of a divorce and some of the regulations drafted affected parents like her that required permits to travel with children.
“We require permits to travel with children between parents, but can take them to busy malls without permits, for instance. The latest amendment provides that we require these permits, but magistrates refuse to issue them on a daily basis. This has affected not only me but many of my clients.
“This is but one of many examples of our regulations which are illogical, irrational and inexplicable, but gazetted with seemingly no foresight of the effect that they might have on the general populace,” Benson said.
The advocate said her last stint as an acting judge – which she provided pro bono – was in February this year, and that at no stage did she hear any matter for the State.
She said that even if she had, she would have exercised her judicial impartiality, “as I have done with all matters that I have dealt with”.
“Judicial officers are human beings and are entitled to their opinions, however strong they may be, but this does not mean that having an opinion makes one unable to adjudicate a matter judiciously,” she said.
Levitt said that many other high profile and senior counsel, who have similarly had acting stints, have expressed their disagreement with many of the regulations, but none were asked not to return to the position.
“Furthermore, Judge Fabricius ruled last week in the Khoza case, in which I represented, that the regulations have led to a ‘communality of failure’. He stated ‘there is no point’ to some of the regulations. Like Gillian and every citizen in this country at present, even the judiciary have been critical of the regulations,” Levitt said.
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By Kailene Pillay