Wednesday 14 August 2019

First Woman Public Prosecutor

CAPE ARGUS - 1939, February 4

The appointment of Miss Christina Lombard (24) to be Public Prosecutor of the Auckland Park Juvenile Court, Johannesburg, is welcomed by social workers in Cape Town, who see in it a sign of the expansion of women’s opportunities for social service. 
Several women barristers, the first of whom was Advocate Gladys Steyn, have acted as public prosecutor on circuit. Miss Lombard’s is the first appointment of a woman to the permanent post.
Adv. Oblowitz told a representative of The Argus that a Public Prosecutor is less concerned with the legal aspect of the case than with the problem of getting a view of the child as a product of his social setting. The object is not to secure a conviction, but to do all possible to set the child on the right path so that he may be reconciled to his social surroundings.

She welcomed the appointment of a woman as an indication that this view of the problem was accepted, but she was not prepared to say that a woman was any more likely than a man to get a full grasp of the situation. In many places the chief constable was the public prosecutor, and she had often found him a man of human sympathy, with a complete understanding of the child and a full acquaintance with the child’s environment and its drawbacks.
“It is not the sex of the person but the understanding of his social background that matters,” she said. “A human understanding which induces its possessor to be at pains to ferret out all relevant details is as often found in a man as in a woman.”
The Public Prosecutor of a Juvenile Court, the Magistrate and the Probation Officer set themselves the task of reconstructing the child’s social background so that he may be in harmony with it. This is their common problem, uncomplicated by legal points.
One great drawback in the present system of promotion in the civil service is that work in juvenile courts offers no higher grades. A magistrate who finds special interest in a children’s court and is particularly useful in that kind of work is completely lost to it when promotion moves him elsewhere.
If women were to find a scope for usefulness in this work, some means of grading should be devised to enable them, though promoted, to continue in the work in which they were most useful, said Miss Oblowitz.
She pointed out that people remained juveniles up to the age of 19, and it happened sometimes that licensed drivers of motor-cars were under this age and might be charged before juvenile courts. On the other hand, young people charged with a serious offence had to go to the Supreme Court. A young girl charged with infanticide, for instance, sadly needed some such understanding as she might expect from a woman.
Although a magistrate in South Africa differs entirely in position and responsibility from the English conception of a magistrate, Miss Oblowitz said she did not see that that constituted an insuperable barrier against women being sometimes appointed to the Bench, provided they were civil servants and possessed the necessary qualifications.
Besides Miss Lombard, who is a B.A. and LL.B., there were several others in various Government departments. There were Miss Steyn, the probation officer, Miss Sutton in the Department of Justice, and Miss Dawes in the Labour Department of Pretoria, to mention only a few of the women who had taken their LL.B.
Women in the clerical ranks of the civil service, Miss Oblowitz pointed out, had to resign upon marriage. She wondered whether a similar disability would hamper their usefulness in the professional grades

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