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JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
21 May 2001
MINISTER’S AND DEPUTY MINISTER’S BRIEFING ON THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Chairperson: Adv J De Lange
The Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister addressed the Committee on the vision for the Department of Justice. The Minister outlined the new management structures and the strategy for better management within the Department. Personnel were being trained who in the past had not been trained. He alluded that the Department was reducing cases of misconduct within the Department. The Minister touched on the unsatisfactory salary structure of judges and magistrates. Further, he spoke on the issues of organised crime, the tenure of the Constitutional Court, the Bill on the legal profession and the issue of under-performance in the courts. The Minister also briefed the Committee on the issue of equality courts and the suggestion of court managers. The Ciskei Amendment Bill was passed.
The Supreme Court (Ciskei) Amendment Bill was passed with unanimous resolution.
Ms Taljaard was not able to address the Committee on the Corruption Amendment Bill as she was due to attend another meeting. The Chairperson tabled the issue for another day.
Presentation by Minister
The Minister, Penuel Maduna, presented the vision for the Department of Justice to the Committee. The Minister highlighted that the foreign community examined the stability of a country’s justice system prior to investing in a country. He said that for this reason it was necessary for the justice system to work effectively. Further, he stated that a proper management system, monitored by the Department of Justice, was necessary to ensure the effective running of the justice system.
With regards to improving the management of the justice system, the Minister insisted that those people at headquarters work in the field and provide proper supervision. In addition he said that if people are being paid to work, they must work regardless of whether they are black or white.
The Minister highlighted the Departments drive to train persons who had previously not received training. The Department is also taking strong action against employees not arriving for work and is reducing the number of misconduct cases within the Department.
The Minister told the Committee that most of the inefficient are situated in the former Homelands. The urban offices in the major centres and towns are functioning well. The Minister hinted that these problems were inherited from the previous government.
It is possible that the courts will in future operate on Saturdays. The Minister insisted that despite the existence of unsatisfactory areas of service, these problem areas could still be addressed. The Minister acknowledged that there was a shortage of staff by saying that for the year 2000/2001 only 330 posts were filled whereas the Department needed 1200 new staff members.
The Minister said that he had instructed Department employees not to misuse money. In the period 1999/ 2000 the Department had an overspend while in 2000/2001 there was an underspend. He argued that funds should have been reallocated rather than shut off in certain areas.
A further problem identified by the minister was the low salaries afforded to Judges and Magistrates. He explained that the Department would have to find resources to remedy this problem or it would face losing some of the younger people whom it had attracted to the bench.
The Minister explained that the Department recognised that people should be trained in a manner that was sensitive to the context in which they live. The Department has recently begun training prosecutors on issues such as race and gender. Presently prosecutors do not go to Justice College, but the Department is considering formal training although it will be costly. Currently prosecutors are training under Judges.
The Minister assured Committee members that work was being done. He stated that the National Prosecuting Authority reported good progress in various areas especially with regard to asset forfeiture. The Scorpions have also reportedly been doing good work. According to the Minister, powerful resources are at the disposal of the state and as a result the Scorpions are able to reduce organised crime.
The Minister said that the issue of organised crime affects South Africa and the rest of the world. Organised crime relating to drugs has a turnover of approximately 5.65 Billion US dollars. The Department was examining the position of South Africans committing crimes internationally. He stated that the international community was proud that the South African Government was addressing this issue.
Further, the Minister stressed that the problem of drug consumption affects children throughout South Africa. He stated that he was not an advocate of drug legalisation but added that there was a need to assess methods of reducing drug demand so as to rehabilitate people. NGO's and international organisations have done substantial work in this area. The Minister noted that the Department would be relying on this information to determine future strategy to combat the many problems relating to illegal drugs.
The Chairperson asked the Minister to comment on the restructuring within the Department.
The Minister advised that a board of directors heads the Department. The board allows people to participate freely and discuss problems and solutions. The board is able to discuss finance and budget issues which inform people of available funds. The Executive Management Committee is seated below the Board and is headed by the Director General. This Committee functions as a private company.
The Minister recognised the need to speed up the rationalisation process of the High Courts. The Department must also agree on the appointment of a Chief Justice. All the judges agreed that the Chief Justice should be at the centre. The Department hoped to submit the necessary constitutional amendments and present these to cabinet shortly. The Minister also said that the issue of the tenure of the Constitutional Court was being discussed but that the matter would be discussed with the Judges. The Minister expressed that he did not wish to pre-empt the process.
The Minister suggested that the Committee disregard the media’s comments on the Bill relating to legal professionals. He added that he had met with representatives of the legal profession and that the meeting went well. A Committee of 16 people was established who would examine the draft bill. This Committee will report to the Minister every month.
Dr Delport (DA) remarked that there was a 37% under performance rate within the Department. Further he said that prosecutors were not able to deal with cases properly since cases were not investigated and thus huge volumes of cases were withdrawn. Ultimately, he argued that the withdrawal of cases is used to reduce the backlog of cases. The public’s general perception was that the perpetrator would not be brought to court. He stated that he did not blame the police, but argued that something should be done to remedy this problem.
The Minister agreed with Dr Delport. He acknowledged that the process is cumbersome and that matters take a long time to be concluded. In court, prosecutors sometimes do not have work after 11am since dockets are not ready. In addition, persons who are charged are not brought to court within 48 hours as laid down by the Criminal Procedure Act. Thus many persons are released. Furthermore, prisoners were often transported late to court and had to return to prison before the court session ended. The Department is considering outsourcing the service since the transport of prisoners affects the efficient running of all other systems
Ms Camerer (NNP) stated that in the last three budget hearings, the Justice Committee was told that there were problems within the prison system. She argued that year after year the Department came back with the same problems.
The Chairperson interjected at this point and said that the Justice Committee will be calling the Director General of Correctional Services to address the Committee.
Ms Camerer contended that last year the Director General told the Committee the same thing. She recognised progress as a result of the Scorpions and National Prosecutions Authority but argued that this was not the general public experience. The prosecution rate was extremely low for serious and violent crimes. In essence, of the 2.2 million cases only 200 000 resulted in successful prosecutions because of the number of withdrawals. Ms Camerer insisted that something be done to increase the number of successful prosecutions.
Ms Camerer went on to argue that these statistics indicated that the courts were not performing. She said that an increase in the budget by 4% for the courts actually means a decrease in budget when inflation is taken into account. She said that the Director General has indicated that the Department will have to look for funding elsewhere. She asked if the Minister was interested or in fact cared about increasing the budget so as to improve the courts functioning.
Furthermore, Ms Camerer stated that there was no funding available for the equality courts and said that the Director General had confirmed this. She insisted that the Department and Committee must accept that the equality courts may never be established and suggested that the personnel be used elsewhere.
The Chairperson agreed that there was no budget available for the Equality Courts. He suggested that all Magistrates be able to deal with equality matters.
The Minister responded by saying that he did care. He said that he had told the Committee about the Departments efforts to improve services and would not repeat these efforts, but would make mention that people are working on Saturdays. Further, he stated that prosecution figures should be compared with other countries. Mr Tony Blair said that similar problems were experienced in the United Kingdom. The Minister acknowledged that prosecution statistics tell a bad story but argued that many problems arose during police investigations. He said that the High Courts reflect a good conviction rate of about 70%. In essence he contended that the prosecution success rate is good once cases reach the courts, but the period from arrest to conclusion is lengthy. The right to a speedy trial is often not given effect to. He also said that Ms Camerer’s figures are exaggerated. He reiterated that problems in police investigations result in fewer cases reaching court. He said it was imperative to separate what happens before a matter comes to court and what happens at court.
The Minister said that he is worried about the conviction rate in Regional Courts, being the largest criminal courts. More experienced Magistrates sit here, so the conviction rates should be high. He has asked Magistrates in these courts for an answer but none was forthcoming.
The Minister responded to Ms Camerer’s question about money by confirming that the Department did not have money and was therefore not able to fill 1250 necessary posts in Gauteng. He stated that as Minister he was unable to ask for more money for Justice since the country also faces other demands.
The Minister insisted that the Equality Courts are being established. He agreed that the courts were not costed and said that the Department would have to find money to establish them. The Minister suggested that the Department re-consider the establishment of the Equality courts since each court could be deemed an equality court and because the Department did not have any money to build these special courts. He added that it was necessary for personnel to receive special training on equality and gender.
The Deputy Minister, Cheryl Gillward, stated that the Departments finance division would be able to identify areas needing funding. In future legislation will not be passed without first costing the implementation thereof.
A member of the opposition remarked that there was no effective court management system to improve or maintain the courts. He asked whether people were being governed by the old rules. He asked whether the Department would look at the new regulations. Further, he asked whether the roll over in the budget as a result of the underspend will be reused.
The Minister replied that the Department is considering ways of improving the effectiveness of court management. The Department was considering employing court managers. He stated that it was not the Chief Magistrates role to manage people and money. .
With regards to unused funds, this amount would return to the fiscus. It was not possible for the funds to roll over.
Adv Masutha stated that there were problems with the functions of the Public Works Department within the Justice Department. He asked if the Department would address this problem.
The Minister replied that the courts can use up to R3000 for general maintenance without having to engage the Department of Public Works. Magistrates are reluctant to use the money because they are held accountable. This strengthened the motivation for a court manager.
Adv Masutha asked for clarity with regards to the demarcation of the Magistrates Courts.
The Minister responded that the Department had been engaged in redemarcation since 1994.In some instances this had been possible in others not. The legislation needed amendment.
Another ANC member asked whether the courts were continually assessed.
The Minister replied that the Director General and Deputy Minister have visited all the courts and collected data from each court. In the final analysis there are major problems with 37.3% of our courts. The Department realises that it cannot manage from the outside.
Imam Soloman (ANC) asked whether the Department had considered mechanisms for involving “people on the ground” so that the restructuring process was successful.
The Minister replied that each person on the board represents a particular line function that communicates from top to bottom within that line function. It is the responsibility of the leader to communicate various problems. He admitted that it may still take time to communicate the new plans to all personnel but said that the communication lines were clearer than in the past.
Imam Soloman asked what mechanisms were available to remedy day to day problems.
The Minister repeated that the Department had allocated a sum of R3000 to handle day to day problems. The Department had also received donations from the public and co-operation from communities.
Another member of the ANC asked whether there was the potential of upward mobility for court interpreters.
The Minister said that there was very limited potential for upward mobility for court interpreters. However, the Justice College has set up a programme to set professional standards for interpreters.
Mr Swart asked if private practitioners could be used as Magistrates in the Regional Courts when Magistrates were unavailable, so that court rolls could be completed.
The Minister replied that private sector lawyers do already assist in the courts. They manage the Small Claims Court and some have been designated as prosecutors and magistrates to reduce the backlog.
Mr Mahlangu said that in his view both the former Homeland courts urban courts are badly run.
The Minister agreed with this comment but added that those working in the former Homeland courts had not been properly trained. With the new approach no sloppiness would be tolerated.
Ms Magazi (ANC) asked for clarity on the status of tribal courts. She said that a better quality of life for people necessarily entailed addressing problems relating to tribal courts, particularly with regards to restructuring.
The Minister agreed that training must be imparted to these courts. There will not be any costs involved since these courts are not under the Department.
Ms Camerer asked about the Maintenance Courts. She said that from reports before them secretaries are handling these matters. Maintenance investigators had not been appointed and there was no move towards appointing them, although R 5 million of the budget was set aside for these investigators.
The Minister agreed with Ms Camerer. He acknowledged that people stand in long queues but said that court personnel were not yet ready to handle the problem. In addition, the Act referring to maintenance investigating officers had not been properly costed and hence there was no money available to appoint these officers. The Department was considering many suggestions but none have met with any substantial approval. The matter is still under discussion.
Dr Delport asked if the Minister would be surprised if the Committee suggested the establishment of an independent commission with inherent jurisdiction to deal with corruption.
The Minister said that he would not be surprised. At the moment, there is an anti -corruption Act that is 70% complete.
The meeting was adjourned.
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