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Judge Rochelle Francis-Subbiah

Capacity: Judges
First Appointed: October 2022
Gender: Female
Date of Birth: August 1968
Qualifications: B.Iuris; LLB and LLM (UNISA)

Key judgments:

  • Khwashba v Ratshitanga (2763/14) [2016] ZAGPJTHC 70
  • Neerpuths v Romans Pizza EC 25/2013
  • PPB v KM Case 45916/2013

Candidate Bio:

Francis-Subbiah’s legal career started in 1988, even before she completed her first law degree, when she was working as a legal secretary at Thandroyden Attorneys. She was working as such on a temporary basis. Between 1989 and 1995 Francis-Subbiah held various positions at different companies and municipality. During this period, she was an administrator, a sales coordinator, and a library assistant.

Between 1995 and 1998 she joined the Department of Justice as a registrar, whereafter she became a prosecutor at the National Prosecuting Authority until 1999. When Francis-Subbiah started working as a Prosecutor in 1998 she also started lecturing at the Justice College. She was appointed as a magistrate in July 2000.

Francis-Subbiah has acted as a judge in both the South and North Gauteng High Courts. She has acted for approximately 11 months between January 2016 and May 2022. As an acting judge and a permanent magistrate Francis-Subbiah has presided over civil, criminal, family, equality and domestic violence matters, children’s courts and harassment matters.

Francis-Subbiah has also penned down various judgments. She presided of over the case of Neerpuths v Roman’s Pizza EC 25/2013, which was heard in the Tshwane Equality Court. In this case Neerpuths had approached Romans Pizza with the intention to enter into an agreement to open a franchise. When the agreement was close to conclusion Romans Pizza became aware that Neerpuths was not Muslim, whereupon Romans Pizza’s representative refused to continue with the agreement. Neerpuths alleged that Romans Pizza had discriminated against him based on religion and he felt his dignity had been undermined. Romans Pizza refuted these allegations. In reaching her decision Francis-Subbiah noted that Neerpuths “were being excluded from a business opportunity because of their faith. This has no place in a democratic society.” She further pointed out that “powerful and well-resourced companies are not exempt from the values of our Constitution…and those who approach the courts have merit in their claim must be strongly protected…. Business cannot encumber freedom of religion by claiming a right to economic practice.” Francis-Subbiah ordered Romans Pizza to pay Seerpuths R200 000 for damages and publicly apologise in the local newspapers for their actions.

In Khwashba v Ratshitanga (2763/14) [2016] ZAGPJTHC 70 the first applicant and the second respondent were married in community of property and later divorced. Upon divorce, the first applicant refused the sale of the property as he claimed that it was never intended to be his exclusive property and that the property was a family house. Francis-Subbiah had to determine the validity of the second respondent’s right to claim a family house as a joint owner and the subsequent sale of the property in an auction. Francis-Subbiah found that the first applicant was only the holder of the lease on behalf of his mother, and that his mother was listed on the certificate of occupation, and this gave rise to a possible claim in succession. The first respondent brought an eviction application against the second applicant and all occupants of the property in question.

However, “[u]pon the divorce of the first applicant and the second respondent there were no ownership rights that could be transferred. The registered lease held in the name of the first applicant did not confer ownership rights and the authority to dispose of the property. The owner of the property was the state.” Francis-Subbiah interdicted the first respondent from executing the eviction order against the second applicant and those occupying the house with and under him. She also set aside the sale agreement entered into between first respondent and third respondent be declared void and invalid.

In her book titled “Taxation of Legal Costs in South Africa”, Francis-Subbiah provides clear and practical guidance to determining reasonable legal costs in accordance with existing rules and tariffs. Juta reviewed the book after it was published and noted that “[a]lthough it is common knowledge that taxation entails the quantification of legal costs, there is still much debate on the underlying applicable principles in preparing the different kinds of bills of costs and the taxation of these. This is where the book excels in explaining the processes of taxation on a step-by-step basis so that the user may arrive at taxed fees and costs that are reasonable. The book identifies the main elements of taxation.” This book has been quoted extensively, not only by legal practitioners, but also by judges and magistrates when dealing with issues related to legal costs.

Francis-Subbiah’s excellence is not only limited to her legal experience. She is an active member of the Sathai Sai International Organization, which is a spiritual organization. Her role has been to conduct education in human values and life skills for children. She has also participated in the environmental, food distribution, old age care and other activities of the organization. Francis-Subbiah has also participated in the art of living organisation’s education and service activities. The activities have included meditation, yoga, youth upliftment and breath workshops.

The former magistrate and published author was born in Durban in 1968. She holds a B.Iuris, LLB and LLM Degrees and these were obtained from UNISA in 1995, 1998 and 2003 respectively.

October 2022 Interview:

October 2022 JSC interview of Ms Rochelle Francis-Subbiah for a position on the Gauteng Division of the High Court. Ms Francis-Subbiah‘s application was successful.