Chairperson, hon Minister, may I first on behalf of the IFP congratulate you on your appointment. The others are old and so I won't congratulate them.
The Office of the Chief Justice is critical to the functioning and independence of the judiciary and a principle check and balance against the unconstitutional abuse of power by the state. What is
worrisome though is that institutionally, there has been no evolution regarding the institutional model despite the proposal made by the judiciary which was originally submitted six years ago in 2013. Questions must be answered by the ministry in this regard.
Here I referred to the transfer of the magistracy from the Department of Justice to the Office of the Chief Justice which I believe and the IFP believe it will do a great deal to ensure such independence and even though there has been some engagement and talk of a single judiciary, this will remain nothing but a pipe dream unless and until legislation is enacted placing the magistracy under the umbrella of the Office of Chief Justice.
The review of the regulations on judge's leave is another serious point of contention, which we believe is set in opposition to the constitutional prescript as regards judicial independence. I am aware that this issue has been raised previously pertaining to the Minister's role of approving leave for judges. In my humble opinion this sends out the wrong signal, namely that the executive oversees the judiciary and thereby at odds with and undermining judicial independence. The Minister should as a matter of urgency review the regulations so as to allow the judiciary to deal with judge's leaves.
Court infrastructure which was raised by my colleague at most of our court houses is in a terribly poor state of affairs which not only undermines the effective and efficient delivery of justice but also creates the impression of a dysfunctional judiciary to the citizenry and outside world.
Let's be frank, the Department of Public Works has failed your department abysmally in respect of maintaining our court infrastructure.
The Durban High Court is a case in point. I raised this issue in a previous debate on this vote few years ago. Some progress has been made and I believe tenders have been invited. However, delay still persists. Minister we must think outside the box. The court was built in the city centre which may have been suitable a hundred years ago, when social engineering was the order of the day.
I recently drove to the Durban Magistrates Court building which has a great deal of additional space and infrastructure and I struggle to see why the High Courts have not been at the very least temporarily relocated to the Durban Magistrates Court building, or even better permanently relocated to that precinct because there is a lot of accommodation. There is a lot of accommodation and space
there and possibly you can build a brand new High Court in the magistrate court precinct and use the current court which was built 100 years ago as a museum or something like that.
The IFP also believe that judicial capacity is cause for concern. In South Africa we have approximately 250 judges responding to the needs of a citizenry of more than 58 million people. Surely this is woefully inadequate and again alludes to the fact that the vast majority of our citizenry will not be able to access justice which they are entitled to.
Justice will not only be delayed but it will be denied to the majority of South Africans but it will also make justice expensive. I just saw an account which I received on behalf of my party where senior counsel charged bill for reserve for hearing. He didn't appear and he didn't do nothing but R40 000. Now, how many people can afford that kind of money? So, there has to be some capping of legal fees because it will be out of sync for ordinary people to access justice.
Security at the Courts is another challenge. We have notices that the Chief Justice has on numerous occasions lamented the poor security that is provided to our courts. Judges in our courts are
expected to be protected by private security personnel armed only with batons. Appropriate measures must therefore be taken in this regard.
In respect of administration I think my other colleague has mentioned this and specifically digitisation of our courts and with the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution upon us, modernisation should be made a priority. More resources must be made available with the requisite skills transfer and training so as to move from paper to digitisation in the courts.
In respect of the Land Claims Court, we believe that there are some moves for amendments to the Restitution of Land Claims Act to ensure that permanent judges can be appointed to that court. The inability of government to deal effectively with land claims submitted way back in 1998 has created unnecessary tensions, fears and expectations.
The IFP will support this Budget but we believe the independence of the Office of the Chief Justice and the judiciary must be maintained. I think you know about Pied Piper of Hamelin. He who pays the piper calls the tune and we don't want the department to hold the tune. It is disgusting to do that. Thank you.
The DEPUTY MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES (Mr J H
Jeffery): Hon Chairperson, hon Minister, members of the Judiciary both from the Higher and lower courts that are here, chairperson and members of the portfolio committee, hon members, the Secretary- General of the Office of Chief Justice and other heads of entities within the justice family, Ladies and gentlemen, the budget and the programme we present today underscores government's commitment to access to justice for all and the advancement of the rule of law.
Our magistrates' courts and our Magistrates have transformed dramatically since the dawn of democracy. Today, our magistrates' courts are legitimate, accessible and serve everyone. From formerly being public servants, today our Magistrates are Independent Judicial Officers and we are working towards amending the legislation and regulations that may still impede on their independence to further align the magistracy, as far as possible and feasible with Judges.
The Constitution 17th Amendment Act and the Superior Courts Act paved the way for the transformation of the magistracy and its full integration into the Judiciary. Effectively making the 17th amendment the Chief Justice the Head of the Judiciary and Superior
Courts Act making Judge Presidents of provincial divisions responsible for the Magistrates in their provinces.
We are finalising a replacement Bill for the Magistrates Act of 1993 that will enable us to consult with the Chief Justice and other stakeholders, whilst a replacement Bill for the Magistrates' Courts Act of 1944 is still work in progress.
There have been continuous engagements with the lower court judiciary on some of the policy choices that must be incorporated into the proposed Bills. Part of the legislative changes seeks to streamline disciplinary processes in respect of Magistrates. Currently, the Magistrates Act requires both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces to pass separate resolutions as to the removal or non-removal from office of a Magistrate. This can be problematic if the two Houses do not concur in their views on such a decision. When it comes to Judges it is only the decision of the NA that is required. Surely there can't be any justification for a higher standard for the removal of the Magistrates than that of Judges. These are some of changes that we need to make. The same grounds for removal from Judicial Office set by the Constitution for Judges are now also made applicable for the removal of Magistrates.
I want to take the opportunity to formally bid farewell and to thank Judge President Legodi who served the Mpumalanga High Court who served the Magistrates Commission as Chairperson with distinction for just over eight years when his last term expired earlier this year. The President, in consultation with the Chief Justice, appointed Deputy Judge President Ledwaba who serves as Deputy Judge President of Gauteng with effect from 1 April this year for a five year term, and we wish him well with this additional responsibility. Judge Ledwaba is in the gallery.
Hon members, during last financial year the former Minister, after consultation with the Commission, appointed 176 Magistrates, one Regional Court President, one Chief Magistrate, 26 Senior Magistrates, and 46 Regional Magistrates. The Commission also advertised 349 posts of Magistrates and the recommendations of the appointments committee will serve before the full Commission later this month, now that both the NA and the NCOP have designated their Members of Parliament to serve on the Commission. These permanent appointments will further strengthen the work of the Judiciary.
It would be remiss of me not to convey our appreciation to the Commission in taking proactive steps in the filling of these as well as other vacancies that have since been advertised. Where our
magistracy was formerly overwhelmingly white and male, we have made significant inroads towards establishing magistracy that truly reflect the demographics of our country. As of May this year, we had 2007 Magistrates across the country, 49% are African, 30% are White, 11% are Coloured, 10% are Indian and in terms of gender, 46% are women. It is not just the total number, if you take the Regional Court President, there are nine of them. One is on suspension of those inactive serve four are women, four are men and the person is acting in the place of the person who is suspended is also a woman. So effectively you have got five out of nine Regional Court Presidents being women. With the Chief Magistrates it is a similar high representation of women in senior positions.
Budget vote debates give us the opportunity to get a holistic view of all the many different components and various role-players within the justice system. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on successes and identify areas which demand more attention. It is rather pitiful that the DA's so-called "shadow Deputy Minister of Justice" was given an opportunity to speak in the justice budget vote debate this morning, but instead of focusing on important justice matters concerning our courts and country, he decided to play the man and not the ball. This is not unusual, in the 5th Parliament, his main contribution to debates would be to personally
attack me on occasions like this. He seems to think that, as shadow Deputy Minister, he must attack the Deputy Minister. Or perhaps, he simply has nothing of substance to say. And I expected that his contribution to this debate will be no different when he speaks later. I'm not sure why the DA gave him a shadow position - a shadow can only exist when light falls on an object, but the hon Horn is completely in the dark when it comes to the correct facts and he showed that earlier today.
Chairperson, the state of the nation address, Sona, obliges us to commit ourselves to building a capable, ethical and developmental state. This includes well-functioning and accessible courts. The Chief Justice controls the judicial functions of the superior and lower courts, whilst the Department of Justice continues to support the administration of the courts.
The Chief Justice's norms and standards provide that the Chief Justice is responsible for the establishment and monitoring of norms and standards for the exercise of judicial functions of all courts. This consequently includes monitoring the performance of the courts. I think we have heard in the debate two different perspectives. We have heard hon Breytenbach, we have heard hon Singh relating to the issue of accountability for this and I think it is important that
those issues - two different positions have been raised and I think we need to reflect and debate them.
The latest Victims of Crime Survey done by Stats SA shows that South Africans are less satisfied with the courts than they were last year. When asked for the reasons as to why they were not satisfied with the performance of courts, many felt that matters dragged on for too long.
Which brings me to the issue of backlog courts. The number of outstanding and backlogs cases in other words those taking longer than six months in the District Courts and longer than nine months in the Regional Courts - are increasing in the lower courts. This leads to delays in the finalisation of cases and the increased overcrowding of prisons.
In this regard, it would be important to engage the judiciary on measures that we, the department and the judiciary together, along with other role- players like the National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, Legal Aid SA and the legal profession could implement to raise confidence and trust amongst members of the public in our courts and to improve the optimal functioning of our courts. We all have a role to play in making the courts work better and more efficiently.
We are therefore heartened that the Office of the Chief Justice has indicated that it will ensure strengthened and structured stakeholder dialogue and collaboration during the medium-term. This will be achieved through, amongst others, committees such as the National Efficiency Enhancement Committee and the Provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committees, which contribute to enhanced efficiency in the performance of the courts.
Part of the reason for court backlogs are blockages in the system such as infrastructural challenges including power cuts, water shortages, equipment issues and so forth. However, most disconcerting, is the lack of staff due to continuing budget cuts as a result of the fiscal constraints that we are facing as a country.
This impact not only on the departments, but also on the NPA and Legal Aid SA, requiring our department to then reprioritise its already-constrained budget to try and assist where we can. Budget cuts have had a negative impact on the filling of court staff related vacancies. One of the measures we are currently investigating is the correct staff capacitating and placement in relation to the courts through to an analysis of the workload and court staffing available.
Some courts are only sitting 1 or 2 hours per day - and this may require, for optimal efficiency, the combining of court rolls in a court centre. The functioning of periodical courts is also being looked at. To hon Breytenbach, there are a number who are sitting over the four and half hours of the norm but it is not enough. That is meant to be the standard that should be followed as set by the Chief Justice but it is not being followed.
The National Development Plan, NDP, urges us to build a society where all persons are and feel safe. This means that we need a criminal justice system that works and works well. Notwithstanding the challenges mentioned, the conviction rates of those cases that are enrolled in the lower courts are indicative of a functioning system. For example, all Criminal Courts managed to obtain a 94% conviction rate, High Courts achieved an 89% rate, Regional Courts 81% - the highest rate in the past five years. District Courts a rate of 95%, exceeding the target by 2%.
As the Minister has indicated, the department embarked on the rationalization of magistrate's courts and aligning the jurisdiction of magistrates' courts with municipal and provincial boundaries so that communities can obtain legal redress and access justice services nearer to where they live. All the provinces have been
aligned, with the exception of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, where consultative processes are still ongoing. The aim is to finalise this during the current year.
th regards to the alignment of Magisterial Districts with High Courts, the alignment of divisions of High courts with provinces for Gauteng, North- West and Limpopo, were completed.
The South African Judicial Education Institute was established in order to promote the independence, dignity and effectiveness of the courts through continuing judicial education. In responding to the goal of the Office of the Chief Justice for improved administrative and technical support to the Judiciary which contributes to ensuring an efficient court system, the Office of the Chief Justice continues to provide support to South African Judicial Education Educational Institution, SAJEI, with the facilitation of 142 judicial education training courses, covering over 3 000 delegates in the period under review. The training courses conducted included Court Annexed Mediation, Case Management, Children's Court Skills, Criminal Court Skills, Family Court Skills, Civil Court Skills, Competition Law, Case Management and Maritime Law, Judicial Management and Judicial Ethics as well as Environmental Crimes.
These training courses are crucial in that they contribute to the provision of quality justice for all. SAJEI has also contributed to judicial training in the Southern African Development Community, SADC, region. Judges have also been involved to the training if Judicial leaders. Further to these reported achievements, during the current financial year, as targeted in the Annual Performance Plan, APP, SAJEI will facilitate at total of 80 Judicial education courses and will also be training 249 newly appointed District Magistrates. We must capacitate SAJEI to ensure that it can continue to deliver on its mandate as articulated in the NDP.
Chairperson, justice means making sure that people are heard when they go to court. Justice means giving people hope in the belief that they will be treated fairly and reasonably and with dignity. Justice means the protection of rights and the conviction of wrongs. Our magistrates' courts continue to be the first port of call for access to justice for most people - with over 700 Court houses countrywide. For this reason, we meet regularly with the Regional Court Presidents Forum and the Chief Magistrates Forum and we thank them for the good working relationship that exists between the magistracy and the department.
Seventy seven of our Magistrates are serving as Commissioners in the Small Claims Courts. These Magistrates offer their time and expertise, free of charge, and after hours, to assist in this important task.
This assists us immensely, particularly in small or rural areas where, were it not for a Magistrate serving as a Commissioner, we would possibly not have been able to have a functioning Small Claims Court there.
For a court to render a service it must be supported by Judicial Officers who are committed to serve the public and the cause of justice - in particular the needs of the poor and most vulnerable. Often our Magistrates are the very face of the law and our magistrates' courts are at the forefront of people's interaction with the law and the justice system. We are unwavering in our commitment of support and capacitate these courts. I thank you.