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Advocate defends her right to criticise Covid-19 lockdown rules

18 May 2020 - 13:07 By Ernest Mabuza
An advocate who expressed anger about 'irrational lockdown rules' in a Facebook post, particularly those governing child visitation for estranged parents, says she will not apologise for her views.
An advocate who expressed anger about 'irrational lockdown rules' in a Facebook post, particularly those governing child visitation for estranged parents, says she will not apologise for her views.
Image: Picture: 123RF/Evgenyi Lastochkin

Gillian Benson, an advocate, says she will not apologise for expressing her own views and will continue to do so.

Business Day reported on Sunday that she was due to resume her stint as an acting judge on June 8. After her Facebook post about “Cyril and his goons”, in an apparent criticism of the country's lockdown measures, however, Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo had “immediately discussed the matter with her, and both agreed it will be in the best interest of all concerned to have her acting appointment revoked”.

Spokesperson for the office of the chief justice Nathi Mncube said that, as a result, Benson will not be returning to act as a judge next month, the newspaper reported.

In a statement issued on Monday, Benson said a few weeks ago she had openly criticised government on her personal Facebook page, during which she used the profanity “f-you”. She subsequently removed the post.

“I have since apologised for that. In the instant of posting that comment I was hugely frustrated and emotionally distraught, and like many people do, I reacted.

“I vented on Facebook without first thinking it through. Who hasn’t said something they regret in a moment of anger?”

Benson said she may be an advocate and she may have acted previously as a judge, but she remains a human being, first and foremost.

“And I remain entitled to criticise any legislative measures implemented which I do not agree with.”

Benson said SA was a thriving democracy in which criticism of leaders, political or otherwise, should not be discouraged.

“The choice of adjectives and nouns 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.”

Benson said criticism about choice of language should not be used as a tool to stifle dissent.

Benson said her last stint as an acting judge was in February this year.

She  said at no stage did she hear any matter for the state, but even if she had, she would have exercised her judicial impartiality, as she had done with all matters with which she had dealt

“Judicial officers are human beings and are entitled to their opinions, however strong they may be, but this does not mean having an opinion makes one unable to adjudicate a matter judiciously.”

Benson said the current lockdown has caused great angst for individuals such as herself.

“While professionally I am unable to earn a proper income, the regulations have had a far greater bearing on other aspects of my personal life as well as on other South Africans. In addition to the stress which the lockdown has caused many citizens, there have been senseless regulations drafted, which continue to affect parents like me who are in the midst of divorce proceedings.”

Benson said, for instance, parents require permits to travel with their children between parents, but can take them to busy shopping malls without permits.

She said the latest amendment provides that parents require these permits, but magistrates refused to issue them.

“This has affected not only me, but many of my clients. This is one of many examples of our regulations which are illogical, irrational and inexplicable, but are gazetted with seemingly no foresight of the effect they might have on the general populace.”