The profession of judicial and legal officers

The profession of judicial and legal officers

Cameroon is well known as a State of Law wherein the Judiciary occupies the envious place of the Judicial Power. The Honourable Profession of Judicial and Legal officers or Magistrates is governed in Cameroon by Decree No. 95/048 of 8th March 1995 as amended and supplemented by Decree No. 2000/310 of 3rd November 2000, Decree No. 2004/080 of 13th April 2004, Decree No. 2012/188 of 18th April 2012 and Decree No. 2012/189 also of 18th April 2012 on the Rules and Regulations governing Judicial and Legal Services. This Law is technically, legally and commonly referred to as the Status of Magistracy.

The 1995 Decree as amended and supplemented by subsequent texts regulates amongst other things the recruitment of Magistrates, grading, oath of office, duties or functions, dress code, Discipline, incompatibilities, benefits, sanctions and cessation of duty. Judicial and Legal officers are governed by the General Rules and Regulations of the Public Service in matters in which the 1995 Decree as amended is silent.

Recruitment

Members of the Judicial and Legal Services i.e. Judicial and Legal Officers and Legal Assistants who have successfully completed the required training, are integrated into the corps of Magistracy by Presidential Decree and then posted or appointed by separate Presidential decrees to the Bench or to the Legal Department, as proposed by the Minister of Justice and following the opinion of the Higher Judicial Council. They may also be assigned duties on secondment to other services by Presidential decree. Before any person is integrated as a Magistrate, he must fulfill the following conditions:

  • Fulfill the conditions prescribed by the General Rules of the Public Service.
  • Be holder of the Masters 1 (i.e. “Maitrise”) in Private Law, Public Law, Economic Sciences, Management or Masters in Computer Sciences awarded by a Cameroon University.
  • Be holder of the Diploma of the National School of Administration and Magistracy- ENAM, Judicial Division, Judicial and Legal Section, or a diploma attesting to the successful completion of the required training as a Legal Assistant. Exceptionally, and in the alternative possess adequate professional experience acquired in Cameroon, subsequent to the Masters 1 (“Maitrise”) in Law, in economics, finance management, Masters in computer science or an equivalent diploma, for at least 05 years as an advocate, University Professor, Senior University Lecturer or University Lecturer, holder of PHD in Law, in a faculty of law and Economics, Bailiff, Notary or a category

A civil servant where the candidate’s competence and activities in Law, economics, finance or Accounts qualifies him to exercise the functions of a judge in the Judicial Courts, Administrative Courts or Audit courts.

  • However the Masters 1 (“Maitrise”), in Private Law, Public Law, Management or a Masters in Computer Sciences may be replaced by a foreign Degree recognized as equivalent by the competent authority and approved by the Minister of Justice.

Intergration into the corps

Magistrates are integrated by a Presidential Decree into 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Scales. Upon integration, they may be promoted from Scale to Scale in ascending order and even elevated to super scale, which is the highest. Holders of a Masters 1 and the Diploma from ENAM as well as Legal Assistants who have successfully completed the required training are integrated into the 1st scale. Bailiffs, Notaries and Category A civil servants with a professional experience of between 05 and 10 years are integrated into the 1st Scale.

Bailiffs, Notaries advocates and Category A Civil Servants with a professional experience of between 10 and 15 years are integrated into the 2nd scale. University Lecturers having a professional experience of over 05 years as well as Bailiffs, Notaries, Advocates and Category A Civil Servants with a professional experience of between 15 and 20 years are integrated into the 3rd scale. Senior University lecturers, lecturers who are holders of a PHD in Law and Professors with a professional experience of over 05 years as well as Bailiffs, Notaries, Advocates and category A Civil Servants with a professional experience of over 20 years are integrated into the 4th Scale.

Oath of office and duties

As soon as they are absorbed into the corps and before performing their duties, all Judicial and Legal officers are bound to take the oath of office. The oath which represents a solemn installation in the duties of a judicial and Legal Officer is received by the Supreme Court sitting in plenary session and it is as follows: “i …… swear before god and all men to honestly serve the people of the republic of cameroon in my capacity as a magistrate, to render justice with impartiality to all persons in accordance with the laws, regulations and customs of the people of cameroon, without fear, favour or malice, to keep the secret of deliberations and at all times and in all places to bear myself as a dignified and loyal magistrate”. It is important to note here that, the words

in the oath were carefully chosen and carefully placed. By that oath a Judicial and Legal officer must be complete in the sense that, he is competent, alert, honorable and honest. A Magistrate is not allowed to expose his frustrations be they social, financial or otherwise. He should be able to learn without necessarily displaying ignorance, be courageous enough to resist pressures and endure difficulties without recklessly showing pain or fear, be bold without being violent, be humble without showing weakness and be strict without displaying wickedness. These qualities and many more are always considered for the promotion of Judicial and Legal Officers from Scale to Scale.

Subsequent to the first posting or appointment a Magistrate may be transferred from the Bench to the Legal Department or vice versa. He may also be sanctioned, promoted, put on secondment or placed on reserve or retirement by Presidential Decree. The Decree of appointment, transfer, promotion, etc is issued after consultation with the Higher Judicial Council.

INCOMPATIBILITIES

The functions of a Judicial and Legal Officer are incompatible with some well identified

activities notably, the exercise in a commercial or industrial establishment of any trade or duty; the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; the exercise of the duties of an auxiliary of justice in particular those of an Advocate, a Notary or a Bailiff; the participation in a political debate or the participation in any manifestation or demonstration which is not compactible with the nature of such duties e.g. a manifestation hostile to the policy or form of Government of the Republic. Furthermore, spouses, blood relatives and relations by marriage up to and including the degree of uncle and nephew may not at the same time be members of the same Court or below one at the Bench and the other at the Legal Department or hear in any capacity appeals against a decision which has involved either their spouse, blood relation or other relation within the prohibited degrees. It is however important to mention that the President of the Republic may appoint or authorize the appointment of a Judicial and Legal Officer in a national corporation or in a business or industrial undertaking in which the State is a shareholder.

PROMOTIONS

The promotion of Magistrates entails intensive studies of reports made on their activities and comportment for at least 04 years. Magistrates are eligible for promotion from Scale to Scale beginning with the first Scale after working for at least 06 years in one Scale. Sadly enough some persons within and outside the corps unjustifiably doubt the legitimacy, justification or validity of promotions in the corps. It is therefore important to highlight certain factors surrounding the promotion of Magistrates.

Firstly, to aspire for promotion to a higher Scale, a Magistrate must have worked hard and displayed professional skills as prescribed in his Oath of office for at least 06 years in one Scale. At the beginning of each year, 02 promotion lists, 01 for the Bench, by the Higher Judicial Council, and the other for the Legal Department, by the Minister of Justice, are drawn up and a Magistrate at his request may be entered on both lists. Annual confidential reports and where applicable proposals for promotion are made for each Magistrate first by the immediate boss and subsequently by all the hierarchical bosses. A Magistrate who is not proposed by his boss for promotion, is entitled to submit his application to the Minister of Justice through his immediate boss for his name to be included in the promotion list. The number of places available for promotion to each Scale i.e. 2nd, 3rd and 4th is fixed by order of the Minister of Justice within the limits of the budget allocated for that purpose. When all the formalities for placement on both promotion lists are concluded, the intensive study of the annual reports begins. The annual reports for Magistrates for promotion to the Legal Department are studied by the Promotion Board composed as by the President, Procureur General of the Supreme Court; the Vice President, Secretary General in the Ministry of Justice if he is a Judicial and Legal Officer; the Members, Inspector General in the Ministry of Justice if he is a Judicial and Legal officer; the Procureurs General of all the Courts of Appeal; Secretary, the Service Head for the Judicial and Legal Service in the Ministry of Justice or any Judicial and Legal Officer designated by the Minister of Justice. The Promotion Board sits and does business where 2/3 of its members including the President or the Vice President are present. At the conclusion of the deliberations the Board proceeds to voting and in the case of a tie, the President has the casting vote. The annual reports for Magistrates for promotion on the Bench are studied by the Higher Judicial Council. Promotions are sanctioned by a Presidential Decree after consultation with the Higher Judicial Council.

DISCIPLINE

Discipline occupies the central position in the career of a Judicial and Legal Officer. In fact, discipline is said to determine the heart beat of the Cameroon Judiciary. It is sometimes said that hard work and discipline are two sides of the same coin and they constitute the two main qualities of a successful career as a Magistrate.

While a disciplined and hard working Magistrate will always enjoy the profession with promotions, appointments and other benefits, an indisciplined Magistrate will attract sanctions for inappropriate conduct and consequently make himself unconfortable with the risk of being dismissed. To help Magistrates better understand the oath of office and to ease the investigations that may lead to sanctions, disciplinary offences have been identified and defined. A disciplinary offence may be actions which violate the oath taken by the Magistrate, impropriety, breach of honour and dignity, failure to fulfill the duties and obligations attached to his rank and an error flowing from professional incompetence. Any of the above offences may result in one of ten disciplinary sanctions which are warning, reprimand, cancellation from promotion list, deferment of advancement in incremental position for a maximum of 02 years, reduction by one or more incremental positions, removal from office which consists of maintaining a Magistrate on the Bench or Legal Department and appointing him to a post lower than that held by members of the Scale to which he belongs for a maximum period of 03 years, demotion to a lower group or scale, suspension for a maximum period of 06 months, dismissal without suspension or loss of pension rights and dismissal with suspension or loss of pension rights. The first 02 sanctions are pronounced by an order of the President of the Republic or an order of the Minister of Justice, while the other 08 sanctions are pronounced by the President of the Republic. During the period concerned by the sanctions, the penalized Magistrate cannot be proposed for advancement in scale or groups. Disciplinary sanctions are not imposed on Magistrates for fun. Sanctions are the result of meticulous inquiries which establish the guilt of the Magistrate beyond any doubt. Like in the case of promotions, errors are not allowed in matters of discipline. Where the Minister of Justice receives a complaint or an information on a matter that warrants a disciplinary measure against a Magistrate of the Bench or the Legal Department, he verifies the complaint or information. If the complaint or information appears founded he instructs the immediate superior to issue or address a query to the Judicial or Legal Officer concerned. He forwards the file to the President of the Republic where the Magistrate is a member of the Bench. He serves a warning or reprimand to the Magistrate of the Legal Department or the Central Administration or in the alternative, i.e. if he deems it necessary, forwards the file to the Permanent Disciplinary Committee.

In both cases, whether the concerned Magistrate is of the Bench or the Legal Department, the Minister of Justice may by order suspend the Magistrate from performing his duties for a period of up to 06 months. Such a decision attracts the consequences provided by the General Rules and Regulations of the Public Service. On his part, the President of the Republic may by order serve a warning or reprimand to members of the Bench after consultation with the Higher Judicial Council. A warning or reprimand served either by the President of the Republic or the Minister of Justice is notified on the Magistrate concerned and kept in his file but it is not published in the official Gazette. If the Magistrate so sanctioned commits a further disciplinary offence, his case will be automatically referred to the competent Disciplinary Board and this exposes him to a more severe sanction as earlier enumerated. What happens to a Judicial or Legal Officer who is detained or sentenced to a term imprisonment for committing a criminal offence ?

It is interesting and very educative to know that although Judicial and Legal Officers apply the law and dispense justice, they are not above the law. Apart from the disciplinary sanctions already discussed, a Magistrate can be detained and even sentenced by a Court to a term of imprisonment if he commits a criminal offence. A judicial or Legal Officer who is detained or sentenced to a term of imprisonment is automatically suspended with effect from the date of detention and during the period of imprisonment. Such a Magistrate is subjected to the Disciplinary Proceedings already discussed and where applicable he may only, resume practice at the Bench after a period of 05 years and in this case within the jurisdiction of another Court of Appeal. For Magistrates of the Legal Department, a permanent Disciplinary Board exists in the Ministry of Justice. The Board sits and conducts its business in camera at the Supreme Court. It is composed of a Chairman: The President of the Supreme Court; a Vice Chairman: Procureur General of the Supreme Court; and Members: the Secretary General in the Ministry of Justice who may be represented by a Director who is Judicial and Legal Officer in the Central Administration; the Inspector General of Judicial Services in the Ministry of Justice; 02 Judicial and Legal Officers of the 4th scale members of the Bench appointed at the beginning of the judicial year and for a period of two years by the Supreme Court sitting in plenary; 02 Judicial and Legal Officers of the 4th scale members of the Legal Department appointed for a period of 02 years by the Promotion Board.

The Permanent Disciplinary Board is seized by the Minister of justice where the latter deems it necessary after studying the report prepared by the Rapporteur. A Rapporteur is appointed for each case by the Vice President at the behest of the Minister of Justice to conduct investigations. In seizing the Board with the substantive matter, the Minister of Justice will also forward the personal file of the Magistrate concerned. Upon service on him of the summons to appear, the accused Magistrate is bound to appear before the Board on the fixed date and he may do so with his counsel. However, the deliberations may still hold if the accused Magistrate is absent with no excuse or justified excuse. At the conclusion of the deliberations, the file is returned to the Minister of Justice with the reasoned opinion of the Board. The Minister of Justice on his part forwards the entire file to the President of the Republic with his reasoned proposals. Any decision taken by the President of the Republic is by Decree. The disciplinary procedure for members of the Bench and super scale Magistrates is conducted at the level of the Judicial Council.

BENEFITS

Apart from benefits such as promotions and advancement in incremental positions, Judicial Officers may enjoy other benefits. Such benefits include :

  • In-service studies and training

A Magistrate may be selected to participate in seminars, or workshops, to follow one or more practical attachment course(s) in other services or undertake further training or courses of study abroad.

  • Recognition

Recognition comprises a letter of congratulation or encouragement issued by the Minister of Justice suo moto or on the proposal of a Magistrate’s Superior.

  • Testimony of satisfaction and Honourable distinction

After consultation with the Higher Judicial Council, as it concerns a Magistrate of the Bench or on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice where it concerns a Magistrate of the Legal Department.

In any case, the President of the Republic may confer other distinctions or honorary titles including advancement in incremental positions or scale, or elevation to super scale on a Magistrate who in the course of performing his duties, distinguishes himself by his devotedness and his contribution towards the enhancement of output.

  • Official annual leave and permissions

Magistrates are entitled to enjoy official annual leave and permissions in a fit case having regard to the requirements of service and preferably during judicial recess. In the case of temporal absence of a Magistrate occupying a substantive post, he is ordinarily replaced by his highest ranking subordinate.

  • Rehabilitation

Magistrates on whom a disciplinary sanction other than dismissal is imposed shall automatically be rehabilitated if no further sanctions are taken against him upon expiry.

  • 01 year for a warning
  • 02 years for a reprimand
  • 03 years for other sanctions

Rehabilitation does not entitle the Magistrate to salary arrears or reconstitution of his career. However, all documents related to the disciplinary sanction are withdrawn from the personal file of the Magistrate concerned.

FINAL CESSATION OF DUTIES

A Magistrate shall stop work and loose his status of Judicial and Legal Officer in the following cases:

  • Anticipated retirement following the provisions of the General Public Service Rules
  • Retirement upon attaining the age limit
  • Termination
  • Dismissal with or without loss of pension rights
  • Resignation
  • Death

The retirement ages of 65 years for super scale and 4th scale Magistrates and 58 years for 2nd and 1st scale magistrates may be extended by the President of the Republic considering the nature and specificities of certain functions. To conclude, it is right to state without fear of favour or contradiction that the profession of Judicial and Legal Officers is a noble one. Magistrates who are absorbed into the Corps are expected to be vibrant and devoted. Justice being a public service, it is easy to identify the good Magistrate from the bad Magistrate. While many Magistrates climb to the summit of this career, others keep staggering on the way under the weight of unethical pressures. The good news however is that, there is enough space at the top for those who embrace the profession as a calling and work with the Oath of office as their Bible.

Annual confidential reports and where applicable proposals for promotion are made for each Magistrate first by the immediate boss and subsequently by all the hierarchical bosses. A Magistrate who is not proposed by his boss for promotion, is entitled to submit his application to the Minister of Justice through his immediate boss for his name to be included in the promotion list…

 

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