The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development said that the Department recognised that a justice system that functioned effectively constituted an important foundation on which to build a just and democratic society. The Strategic Plan was aligned to the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster. Addressing each programme, he noted that some of the targets for Courts Services and the National Prosecuting Authority. Preparations for the forthcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup were at an advanced stage. There were 56 dedicated courts located near the World Cup stadia. Recruitment of both foreign and local language interpreters was in progress,
The Committee inquired about how far the Department had progressed with the Criminal Justice Review and the seven-point plan. The Committee was concerned about the Department’s role and state of preparedness for the World Cup. There were inquiries about when the Superior Courts Bill and the 19th Constitutional Amendment Bill would be tabled. The Committee inquired about the changes in the National Prosecuting Authority especially on the proposed disbandment of the Asset Forfeiture Unit. The Committee also asked about matters relating to court proceedings, the Deeds Office and the Master’s Office as well as the backlog of Road Accident Fund claims.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development’s briefing
Mr Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, said that the Department recognised that a justice system that functioned effectively constituted an important foundation on which to build a just and democratic society. The Strategic Plan was aligned to the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster outcomes (as approved by the Cabinet during the January Lekgotla), which sought to ensure that all people in South Africa felt safe. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development lead the JCPS Cluster, and was responsible for directing and overseeing the integration and coordination of the diverse, but interrelated cluster programmes. The Department's Strategic Plan aimed to fulfil its mandate by addressing the core functions of the Department. Some of these were to:
● Comply with the various statutory measures governing its mandate and functions;
● Expand justice systems and processes to ensure access and proximity to communities living in rural and township areas;
● Transform justice and the judicial system in the country;
● Administer courts to ensure fair and effective resolution of conflicts.
Programme One address all functions relating to the administration of the Department. This Programme recognised the challenges in the internal control systems, which have resulted in the Department receiving qualified audits in the previous three years. The Ministry wanted to ensure that there would be no recurrence of these bad audits in the Department. One of the goals of the Department would be to improve corporate governance and enhance the Department's internal control systems. Fraud and corruption in the Criminal Justice System would be reduced by increasing conviction rates.
Programme Two addressed the provision and management of courts, the facilitation of criminal, civil and family law matters, including the administration of justice services at provincial levels. This programme also included collaboration with other government departments to promote and protect the rights of children, women, the aged, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups in the country. Of the R12, 180 353 billion allocated to the Department for the financial year 2010/11, an amount of R3, 871 934 billion would be allocated to improve access to justice in the Court Services programme.
The Department was currently reviewing the efficiency of the Civil Justice System, with a view to making it more accessible, respectful of people's rights and more responsive to their needs. This year the Department would submit a report to Cabinet on the deficiencies of the current Civil Justice System, and the enforcement rate of civil judgments made against the State in the past two years.
The eradication of case backlogs would require a strong partnership with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). It was therefore commendable that the NPA had set itself the following strategic goals:
● Improve prosecutorial efficiency by increasing the number of cases finalised by 4%, from 317 677 in 2009/10 to 386 503 in 2014/15 and by reducing the number of backlog cases by 2.5% per annum.
● Increase the use of alternative ways of delivering justice by increasing the number of these cases finalised (including Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms) by 5% per year, from 404 229 in 2009/10 to 515 910 in 2014/15
● Improve prosecutorial efficiency in dealing with specific crime focus areas including complex commercial crime by increasing the number of cases finalised by the specialised commercial crime unit by 2%, from 1 436 in 2009/10 to 1 585 in 2014/15.
● Improve justice services for the victims of sexual offences by establishing 5 additional Thuthuzela Care Centres per year to bring the total number to 45 in 2014/15 from the current 20.
● The Trafficking in Persons Bill and a National Strategy for Reduction of Gender-Based Offences would be finalised next year.
Programme 3 carried a variety of multifaceted justice initiatives, including the transformation of the Justice system, the state and society as a whole. One of the most important initiatives in this programme was to strengthen the Department's role in Constitutional Development and to promote participatory democracy. The aim was to establish a branch that would be responsible for Constitutional Development in the Department
Preparations for the forthcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup were at an advanced stage. There were 56 dedicated courts located near the World Cup stadia. Recruitment of both foreign and local language interpreters was in progress, and the Justice College was ready to train interpreters in court procedures. A volunteer training programme was established in which 135 unemployed youths would be trained. Trial runs had been held in Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, North-West, Western Cape during the recent Cape Town International under-20 soccer tournament, and Gauteng during the Rand Easter Show. Further trial runs will take place in the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and the Eastern Cape.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) asked if the Criminal Justice Review and the Seven-Point Plan were ongoing processes. Were there sufficient results from these processes? Did the Minister feel that the qualified audits that the Department was continually receiving would be resolved soon? The Minister should look at the preparedness of the departments that would play a role in terms of human trafficking during the World Cup. There was sufficient legislation that dealt with perpetrators of human trafficking but not for the protection of the victims.
Ms M Smuts (DA) said the Committee was looking forward to the tabling of the Superior Courts Bill and the 19th Constitutional Amendment Bill. How soon would these Bills be tabled before the Committee? How would the lower courts be dealt with and to what degree was there going to be integration? Had the Minister been consulted on the following National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) matters: the removal of the entire administrative structure from the NPA to the Department; the disbandment of the Asset and Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and the fact that the heads of specialised commercial crimes, priority crimes litigation and sexual offences would be moved to the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) in an advisory capacity.
Dr Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) said that there was no effort from the Department for the reformulation of the judiciary. The entire trial process had to be changed so that a three-month trial could become a three-day trial. What was the Minister’s view on this? There had to be more urgency in dealing with the Sexual Harassment Bill, what was the progress on this Bill?
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) asked what kind of funding structure was in place for prosecutors who would work after hours during the World Cup. The target by the Department to reduce queues in Maintenance Courts to two hours was not satisfactory. Two hours in a queue was too long, especially for working mothers. The issue of the Master had to be considered more closely. Had a Chief Master been appointed yet? If this was not the case then there was a problem. The Master was also not user friendly.
Mr M Gungubele (ANC) said that the presentation by the Minister and those from the Department indicated that both were on the right path. There had to be an improvement in the clarity of short and medium term goals. The Department had to focus on this. There had to be a closer examination of the coordination of the various intra-department stakeholders for the FIFA world Cup.
Ms N Michael (DA) said that Magistrates Courts were understaffed and in poor condition. What was going to be done in order to upgrade the courts to the level they should be? When would acting Magistrates be permanently employed? The Deeds Office also had to be looked at closely as it was understaffed and not user friendly. Could the Minister explain the way in which legislation was prioritised?
The Minister replied that the Criminal Justice Review process as well as the seven-point plan was now being implemented. The seven-point plan was crucial and Cabinet approved it in January. The Department was working closely with the police, intelligence department and correctional services in order to ensure that all the points in the seven-point plan were effectively implemented. The qualified audits were a serious concern; The Ministry had met with the Director General on this matter. Third party accounts were a grave concern as well. As the Human Trafficking Bill was now before Parliament, it decided how fast or slowly the Bill would be processed. It was a priority Bill. The administration of the judiciary was important and one of the proposals that would be considered was to put the administration of judges within the judiciary. The Legal Practice Bill, Superior Courts Bill and the 19th Constitutional Amendment Bill would all be tabled before the Committee next week. There were 1 685 vacant Magistrates posts. The Magistrates Commission was going to hold interviews for 81 positions
No decision had been taken for the disbandment of the AFU. The Ministry together with the Director General would meet with the NDPP next week to discus what had been written about the NPA in the media. There “would be no decision on the disbandment of the AFU”. Dr Oriani-Ambrosini’s question was not very clear.
Dr Oriani-Ambrosini explained that the South African judicial system had lawyers who went through expensive fact-finding missions and also led evidence. In the American legal system all this took place in lawyers offices, this led to a massive reduction in court time and legal fees in the US.
The Minister said he now understood the question and replied that the cluster of Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) and the Heads of Court were also concerned about this matter. The Department was working in collaboration with stakeholders in order to try and change the rules. Judges should take charge of their courts and not just be spectators. The special courts were ready for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and there were 56 such courts. The Department would go back and consider reducing the waiting time in queues at Maintenance Courts. The issue of the Master’s Court was regrettable; there was still an acting Chief Master but the position had been advertised. Planning was of cardinal importance. The infrastructure in courts was a problem but difficult to deal with as there were many stakeholders. The Minister had had a lot of engagements with fellow Ministers to deal with court infrastructure.
The Chairperson asked the Minister to talk about the post Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) cases and investigations.
Mr Swart asked to what degree could the Minister engage the Minister of Transport about the backlog of claims for the Road Accident Fund (RAF)? To what degree was the Department consulting with the Master about liquidators, considering the economic meltdown had resulted in many companies being liquidated. It seemed like it was in the liquidator’s interest to wind up companies, as the fees they charged were high. Was this an issue that the department was aware of?
The Minister replied that this was a serious issue for the Department and he had had an informal meeting with the Minister of Trade and Industry about this. The DG was requested to consult with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to find out which department would be responsible for what in resolving this matter of over-enthusiastic liquidators. The outstanding Truth and Reconciliation Commission issues would be followed up with the NPA. Heads of Courts were worried about the RAF; one of the reasons why there were court backlogs was because of RAF matters. The DG would consult with the DG of Transport to look into resolving the RAF issue. They both would meet with the Chief Executive Officer of the RAF. The Heads of Courts had suggested that alternative mediation should be considered in resolving these cases.
The Chairperson asked when would the strategic plan for the Department be tabled before Parliament?
The Minister replied that the Department was ready and asked when and how this could be done.
The Committee Secretary explained that the House Chairperson had requested that all department strategic plans be tabled before 3 March 2010. The Department’s strategic plan was not tabled. A draft strategic plan was presented to the Committee but not the final and formal version.
Mr Gungubele suggested that the matter should be clarified with Parliament’s management.
The Chairperson said that this would be the course of action that would be taken.
The meeting was adjourned.
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