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John Riley


With much of his legal career sharpened in the criminal courts, Riley appears sensitive to the repercussions that violent crime and inadequate aftercare resources in the criminal justice system have on victims.

While acting on the Western Cape Bench last year, Riley dismissed an appeal against conviction and sentencing by a serial criminal who was found guilty of two counts of rape of an underage girl.

Riley expressed “great concern” that the survivor did not appear to be “assessed for trauma arising from the rapes nor was she or her family subjected to therapy by suitably qualified experts” and that regional court prosecutors in recent cases had “adopted the practice of substituting victim impact reports, prepared by experts, with what is known as a victim impact statement, at the sentencing stage”.

“Considering the constitutional principle that the best interest of the child is paramount, prosecutors have an obligation to obtain a properly prepared victim impact report in respect of a child victim of rape or sexual assault and they are required to approach matters of this nature with thoughtful preparation, patient and sensitive presentation of all the available evidence with meticulous attention to detail,” wrote Riley. He ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who was directed to ensure an assessment by an expert on the trauma suffered by the complainant and her family. The DPP was then requested to provide a report to the court.

Riley obtained a B.Juris and LLB from the University of Western Cape. He previously worked as a public prosecutor and a magistrate for seven years before being admitted as an attorney. Riley founded Riley Incorporated in 1991. He has acted as a judge in the Western Cape High Court from 2014 onwards.

He has lectured on criminal law at the University of Western Cape and taught a the Practical Law School, presented by the Association of Law Societies.

Interview Synopsis: 

When quizzed by Western Cape deputy judge president Jeanette Traverso about his outstanding judgements, it soon emerged that it had taken Riley approximately eight months to finally hand down a verdict.

Traverso then noted she, and Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, had to “go to considerable lengths to get you to write the judgment.” Riley responded that it had ben difficult to juggle running his practise while acting.

The response triggered another series of questions where commissioners raised concerns that Riley had been operating his practise while acting – a no-no as it constituted a conflict of interest.

Riley conceded that one was not supposed to act as a judge and run still his attorney’s practise when questioned by commissioner CP Fourie.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng also sought clarity on how, if “you have nothing to do with running your practise” did that impact on his inability to complete writing a judgment.

Riley said he had to still make input into his firm’s decision to look for and occupy new office space.

Mogoeng responded: “Sir, acting cannot be affected by looking for office accommodation.”

Advocate Mike Hellens SC further pressed the point that judgments had to be written while the argument, demeanour of witnesses and one’s notes were still fresh in the mind, “otherwise it becomes cold ash in your mouth.”

Riley conceded it was critical to write a judgment as soon as possible.”