Chairperson, hon members, Chief Justice and members of the judiciary, heads of constitutional institutions, distinguished guests, comrades, friends, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour and a privilege to be afforded this opportunity to present to you the budget of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for the coming year.
But, firstly, allow me to pay tribute to one of the heroines of the liberation struggle. The sudden and very sad passing of ANC struggle veteran uMama uNontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu took all of us by surprise - just weeks after she had cast her vote during the recent local government elections. May her selfless fighting spirit inspire all of us in our endeavours to ensure access to justice for all our people.
As a department charged with the mandate to entrench and protect the Constitution for the common good of society, we can say without fear of contradiction that the recent local government elections have further strengthened our work in consolidating our constitutionally driven democratic dispensation.
Allow me also to make mention of the fact that this Budget Vote is presented during national Youth Month, when we as the nation pay even greater attention to the integration of the youth into the various programmes of our development.
We, in the department and the justice family, are indebted to the able and guided oversight of the justice portfolio committee and this House, without which we would not have been able to make any visible strides in our performance outcomes, or overcome some of the difficult challenges we encounter in executing our constitutional and legislative mandate. The focus of the department's financial turnaround strategy is to improve internal controls and performance towards an unqualified audit report by the 2012-13 financial year and, ultimately, clean audits completely.
The qualified audit reports that the department has suffered over the years is therefore a matter of grave concern to me. I have had meetings with the Auditor-General in order to understand the magnitude of the problem, and the department's officials have also appeared before the portfolio committee and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Scopa. Both committees have provided guidance on the path towards an unqualified audit.
The elements of this turnaround strategy I am talking about entail the implementation of accounting systems to enable the department to produce credible financial statements; the implementation of policies, processes and procedures to improve controls across the department; the implementation of internal audit processes to provide early warning systems and carefully monitor high-risk areas; the full use of the support offered by National Treasury to improve the financial maturity of the department; and building internal capacity in strategic areas, such as finance, internal audit, strategy and risk management.
This budget also reflects progress that we have made with regard to the transformation of the judicial system and the legislation relating thereto, and initiatives and interventions undertaken to improve access to justice. This is done through the expansion of infrastructure and services, particularly in rural areas.
We have made visible progress regarding the transformation of our judicial system and the legal sector, which are at the apex of our transformation- orientated projects.
I take this opportunity to convey our gratitude to the Chief Justice and all heads of courts for their constructive views on the Bills, and to commentators from the judicial and legal fraternity, broadly speaking, as well as to provincial legislatures and other sectors of society for their invaluable submissions on the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Bill and the Superior Courts Bill after they were approved by Cabinet. Both these Bills have been tabled in Parliament, and I do trust that the submissions made in respect of these Bills will further enhance the final product.
The Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Bill provides a constitutional framework for the judiciary to take charge of its own court administration. It affirms the Chief Justice as the head of the judiciary, and entrusts the incumbent of this highest office in the judiciary with the authority to develop norms and standards for all courts. Flowing from the envisaged constitutional amendments, a court administration framework that is commensurate with the model of the separation of powers in our Constitution will be developed.
I will seek the guidance of Cabinet and this House at an appropriate time once we have come up with firm proposals from both our research and those undertaken by the Chief Justice and his office. In the interim, as we all know, the President has, by proclamation, enhanced the status of the Office of the Chief Justice to that of a national department. This has enabled his office to recruit competent professionals who will assist in developing an appropriate model of court administration.
Similarly, the revised Legal Practice Bill was approved by Cabinet, following continued engagement with the legal profession. A ground-breaking compromise which enjoys the support of many in the profession relates to the legislative mandate proposed for the Transitional Legal Practice Council to deal with all outstanding areas of contention in the Bill within a period of the next 18 months.
These areas of contention are, among other things, the type of regulatory structures for the profession, the appointment mechanism for the members of the regulatory structures, disciplinary mechanisms, and assets and financial arrangements relating to the profession.
I am pleased to inform this House that the department and the state law advisers are addressing all the concerns that would have likely obstructed the certification of the Bill. I am confident that this Bill will soon be ready for introduction to Parliament.
A new legislative framework is needed to manage litigation against and on behalf of the state. The transformation of the State Legal Services forms an integral part of the transformation of the legal profession and the administration of justice. We have initiated a process that will culminate in the overhaul of the state attorney's dispensation and provide an alternative legislative framework informed by the ethos and values of our Constitution for effective institutional efficiency.
I will soon submit to Cabinet a framework for the reform of the State Legal Services to initiate a debate that will lead to a new piece of legislation that will, in turn, provide for the establishment of a unified, development- orientated public-sector legal practice that is founded on our common vision, and which is underpinned by co-operative governance principles embodied in the Constitution. All these measures will enable government to address the challenges in the management of the legal services of government.
The Rules Board for Courts of Law is also considering rules to facilitate the use of court-connected mediation and court-connected arbitration programmes, which have proven to be a huge success in other jurisdictions. We plan to pilot these programmes in a few selected courts before the end of this year as part of the Civil Justice Reform Project that has already been sanctioned by Cabinet.
With regards to the gender and racial composition of the judiciary, of the total of 230 judges in all the Superior Courts, there are only 60 women judges, of whom 22 are African. These figures include the recent appointments made by the President after the Judicial Service Commission's sitting in April this year.
The integrated interventions of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster to fight crime and corruption have begun to bear fruit. The programmes of the various cluster departments respond to the eight outputs that constitute the priority interventions in the fight against crime and corruption. In designing the programmes and legislative measures to fight this scourge, the cluster is guided by Outcome 3, namely that all people in South Africa are and feel safe. The delivery agreement in this regard sets out the joint performance targets we have set for ourselves for the cluster, and we continue to measure our outcomes against the set targets.
The cluster adopted, amongst other things, these outputs: reducing the overall levels of serious crime - in this respect the number of serious crimes, particularly trio crimes, has decreased considerably in recent times; an effective criminal justice system to fight corruption even amongst our ranks; perceptions of crime among the population in order to ensure that we reduce the levels of crime in our country; and levels of corruption have been reduced, thus improving investor perception, trust and willingness to invest in our economy - the Asset Forfeiture Unit, as of quarter four, seized assets in excess of R468 million in 13 cases, demonstrating our government's determination to fight corruption.
One of the major challenges facing the criminal justice system is the case finalisation rate which undermines the right to a fair trial. This constitutional right is expressed in the well-known adage "Justice delayed is justice denied".
I am hopeful that the Access to Justice Conference, initiated by the judiciary and which will take place in July this year, will go a long way in addressing the challenges facing the courts in dispensing justice. This conference, unlike past conferences, which involved judges only, will also involve all three branches of the state: the legislature, the executive and, of course, the judiciary itself.
In respect of the lower courts backlog, between April 2010 and March this year, the 56 regional courts disposed of 8 111 cases, of which 5 272 were finalised, 2 444 withdrawn and 395 transferred. The district courts disposed of 8 915 backlog cases in the same period, of which 5 813 were finalised, 2 943 withdrawn and 159 transferred.
Since November 2006 until the end of March this year, 46 127 cases in total were disposed of by the backlog courts. The lower and High Courts were able to dispose of more cases than the total number of new cases enrolled. A total of 962 317 new cases were enrolled, and 988 451 cases were disposed of. A total of 26 134 more cases were therefore disposed of than received. This is a sign of very commendable progress in this regard.
We have established a national task team consisting of the relevant role- players from the government and nongovernmental organisations, NGOs, to develop and implement an integrated intervention strategy to address the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, community. I expect the report of the task team very soon, and will engage the public on all of its recommendations.
As part of implementing the criminal justice system's seven-point plan, our cluster is rolling out the audio video remand, AVR, system for awaiting- trial detainees. We launched the AVR system only yesterday in Mitchells Plain. The AVR initiative was launched after noting that more than 80% of awaiting-trial detainees were transported to court for the mere purpose of postponements. The chain duties of signing them out from correctional centres and their transportation to court and back to correctional centres is not only time consuming, thereby delaying court hearings owing to late arrivals, but also takes up many of the human resources, which could be optimally used otherwise.
The courts and Master's offices are the department's service delivery points that consume the bigger slice of our budget allocation. There are nine ongoing capital projects, which have been carried forward from the 2010 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, namely the construction of new courts and the rehabilitation of existing courts to meet the increasing demands for court and office accommodation. Three new courts have been completed, namely the Galeshewe Court, which we launched in Kimberley only last week. The expansion of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein has also been completed, which will be inaugurated by the President in September of 2011.
We are also continuing with our programme of the redesignation of branch courts as proper full services courts. I am pleased to announce that the conversion into fully fledged courts of Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Northam and Ntuzuma, which had to be delayed due to financial constraints, will be effected from 1 August 2011. All magistrates' courts in the 384 magisterial districts have now been designated as equality courts, as part of ensuring access to justice for all our people.
In respect of the High Courts, the principle of a "Division of the High Court for every province" applies equally. It is in this context that the principle has been applied to Limpopo, where we are building a new High Court in Polokwane.
We have identified maintenance and Master's services as areas that will receive our priority focus in this financial year. An effective maintenance recovery and payment system has the effect of reducing the dependence of children on social security, as more and more parents will be compelled to support their children. We are also putting more efforts into turning around the Master's offices to improve services relating to the winding up of deceased estates, the administration of insolvent estates and payments from the Guardian Fund.
Our emphasis on the electronic fund transfer payment system for maintenance and the Guardian Fund, in terms of which payments are made directly into beneficiaries' bank accounts, seeks to increase efficiency while reducing fraud and corruption in the handling of third-party funds.
Three sets of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, regulations to effect reparations to the victims and communities of apartheid atrocities and gross human rights violations have been drafted and were published in the Government Gazette in May 2011 for public comment.
Regarding the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act, Rica, let us be very clear that there will not be an extension of the deadline after 30 June of this year.
The department has also prioritised implementation of key legislation to enhance efficiency of the administration of justice. Amongst the pieces of legislation are the Judicial Service Commission Amendment Act, the Child Justice Act and the Children's Act of 2005.
Consultations on the Muslim Marriages Bill is also ongoing, and we do hope that the consultations will recognise Muslim marriages, the absence of which gives rise to countless instances of hardship, particularly in the case of women and children who find themselves in distressing situations when these marriages fail and are terminated.
Hon members, allow me to provide you with the budget allocation relative to the programmes and commitments that have been made. A total budget of R13,5 billion has been allocated to the department for the 2011-12 financial year. Of this budget allocation, R4,3 billion is allocated to court services, R2,6 billion for the National Prosecuting Authority and R1,6 billion for public entities and Chapter 9 institutions.
The 2011 budget also sets out additional allocations of R477 million for this financial year, R1,2 million for 2012-13, and R1,4 million for 2013- 14: for increasing regional capacity, R490 million for building new courts, R175 million for implementing legislation concerning vulnerable groups, R210 million for renewing our information and communications technology infrastructure, R45 million for the United in Diversity presidential initiative, R938,4 million for improving conditions of service and implementing the second phase of the occupation-specific dispensation for legally qualified professionals, R240 million for increasing the department's baseline for accommodation charges, R437,5 million for appointing more judges and magistrates, including secretarial support, and R405 million for adding capacity for Legal Aid SA, the Special Investigating Unit, the SA Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector. Over the next three years, the department will spend R2, 5 billion constructing new courts, and so on.
Before I conclude, allow me to convey my gratitude to Chief Justice Ngcobo for his profound leadership. We also congratulate him on the extension of his tenure as Chief Justice for a further five years. Allow me also to thank my Deputy, Mr Nel, the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster, the Director-General, Ms Sindane, and the whole management team, heads and chairpersons of statutory bodies, heads of courts and members of the judiciary as a whole, and the entire staff of the justice family.
Lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank my wife, Bridgette, who is here today, and my family, who are always at my side throughout the many challenges that I face in the execution of my responsibilities. Thank you. [Applause.]