Legal Aid South Africa 2012 Strategic

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Justice and Correctional Services

07 May 2012
Chairperson: Mr L Landers (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Legal Aid South Africa presented its Plan 2012-2017; Annual Performance Plan 2012-13 and Budget 2012-13 to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development. The Committee was informed that it was important for Legal Aid South Africa to have a strategy and vision planned well and duly executed. The strategic plan was set up in accordance with guidelines set up by National Treasury. The Legal Aid South Africa brand has grown from 49% to 56% and this was indicated by a recent omnibus survey. The number of cases especially civil has grown in 2011/2012. In 2010/11 988,451criminal cases were processed and 2 728 305 civil matters including new cases, trials, motions and judgments were processed through the lower courts. In 2010/11 92.5% of new maters were criminal legal matters and 7.5% were civil legal matters. Legal Aid South Africa had increased the number of civil law practitioners and there was a shift in this direction because criminal litigation has stabilised. The component of the balance scorecard indicated the various budget allocations which were 872 982 177 for client community and stakeholders; R21 676 885 for finances and sustainability; R13 053 406 for business processes and R379 065 623 for employee and organisational capacity.

 Strategy 1 was on the Delivery of Client focused Legal Aid including vulnerable groups in criminal matters. The coverage of criminal courts was at 83% at District Court level and 96% at Regional Court level. In the High Court all matters that required legal aid were covered. 16% of cases in the District Courts exceeded the turnaround times, Strategy 2 was based on the Delivery of Client focused Legal Aid including vulnerable groups in civil matters. In the base year of 2011 31 451 civil matters were handled and the growth target was 10% per year and the number of staff would grow proportionately. Strategy 3 was on the Delivery of Primary Legal Advice Services, there were two projects linked to this which were Legal Advice Capacity and the Legal Aid Advice line. Performance for the Delivery of Primary Legal Advice Services was 234 693 consults and the growth target was 5%. The call centre programme was now institutionally and the call volumes had grown to just under 50 00 for the past financial year. In the last financial year 23 new matters were approved for the Impact Litigation Unit.

The budget for 2012/13 had to take into account the R34 million cut and Occupation Specific Dispensation Phase 1 shortfall of R30 million that had to be funded from the baseline allocation totalling R64 million. The funding of over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework period was R1.286 billion in 2012/13; R1.324 billion in 2013/14 and R1.415 billion in 2014/15. The bulk of the budget went to salaries and related costs as well as operating expenditure. There was a decrease in the operating expenditure this year in order to cater for the budget cuts. The case backlog cost has increased by 6% year on year. Direct expenditure had a 14% decrease once again as a result of budget cuts and capital expenditure increased by 8%. The salary recruitment budget was reduced to 96.8% in order to cater for the budget of R34 million. Overall the budget increased by 8% over the 2011/12 – 2012/13. Some of the challenges that Legal Aid South Africa faced were the R34 million budget cut which meant that operating costs could not be increased; the R30 million budget cut resulting from the reduction by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for phase 1 of Occupation Specific Dispensation.

The Committee commended Legal Aid South Africa for an excellent report. It was said that more oversight had to be done at Legal Aid South Africa centres. Legal Aid South Africa was asked what their opinion was on the informal mediation that was being used more and more by the National Prosecuting Authority. More information was requested on the corporation agreements as well as civil impact litigation. Legal Aid South Africa was asked about the kind of impact that the Legal Practice Bill would have on their work. The Committee noted how well the Information Technology system was working and asked how Legal Aid South Africa was achieving this. The Committee asked how applications for access to Legal Aid South Africa services were processed, who its clients were and what the branding and marketing strategy was. It was inquired as to how much of the civil litigation cases were for maintenance matters and what progress has been made to accommodate these types of cases?

Meeting report

Judge Dustin Mlambo, Chairperson of Legal Aid SA (Legal Aid SA) said that it has been a big learning curve for him at Legal Aid SA; the Committee has been supportive throughout his tenure. LEGAL AID SA has hosted more than 50 international delegations on how to improve legal aid. Last week the visit to Vienna to see the Commission on Crime Prevention and Justice, which was part of the of the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime was very fulfilling because there was the introduction of a resolution that was sponsored by the South African (SA) government. In Vienna there was the adoption of UN principles and guidelines on access to legal aid within criminal justice systems in the world. One of the challenges that Legal Aid SA faced this year was the extent of the budget cuts that it faced.

Presentation: Legal Aid SA on their Strategic and Annual Performance Plan and Budget

Strategic Plan
Ms Vidu Vedalankar, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Legal Aid South Africa, said that it was important to have the strategy and vision planned well and duly executed.  The strategic plan was set up in accordance with guidelines set up by National Treasury. Legal Aid SA had a Constitutional and legislative mandate which included the Legal Aid Act 22 of 1969 and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Legal Aid SA was in the process of revising the Legal Aid Act. Legal Aid SA has been growing the brand and focusing on raising brand awareness. The brand has grown from 49% to 56% and this was indicated by a recent omnibus survey. Legal Aid SA currently had a mixed legal aid delivery service where one could access assistance via Legal Aid SA centres and judicare which was outsourced privately at 5%. The number of cases especially civil has grown. Civil legal aid has thus grown in 2011/2012. In 2010/11 988,451criminal cases were processed and 2 728 305 civil matters including new cases, trials, motions and judgments were processed through the lower courts. In 2010/11 92.5% of new maters were criminal legal matters and 7.5% were civil legal matters. Legal Aid SA had increased the number of civil law practitioners and there was a shift in this direction because criminal litigation had been sorted out. One of the challenges that Legal Aid SA faced this year was the extent of the budget cuts that it faced. Sustainability from a financial and operations perspective was important especially for the long term. Some of the strategic risks related to the client community; legal and justice; finance and governance; employee as well as organisational capacity. There were also 26 strategies, the most important ones were the client related strategies.. There were 58 programmes which were linked to the strategies and translated into projects. The component of the balance scorecard indicated the various budget allocations which were R872 982 177 for client community and stakeholders; R21 676 885 for finances and sustainability; R13 053 406 for business processes and R379 065 623 for employee and organisational capacity.

Annual Performance Plan
Mr Brian Nair, National Operations Executive (NOE) from Legal Aid SA said that his presentation would focus on the client and community section of the Annual Performance Plan. Strategy 1 was on the Delivery of Client focused Legal Aid including vulnerable groups in criminal matters. There were two projects linked to Strategy 1 and they were criminal court coverage and reducing case backlogs. The coverage of criminal courts was at 83% at District Court level and 96% at Regional Court level. In the High Court all matters that required legal aid were covered. 16% of cases in the District Courts exceeded the turnaround times, Strategy 2 was on the Delivery of Client focused Legal Aid including vulnerable groups in civil matters. In the base year of 2011 31 451 civil matters were handled and the growth target was 10% per year and the number of staff would grow proportionately. Strategy 3 was on the Delivery of Primary Legal Advice Services, there were two projects linked to this which were Legal Advice Capacity and the Legal Aid Advice line. Performance for the Delivery of Primary Legal Advice Services was 234 693 consults and the growth target was 5%. The call centre programme was now institutionally and the call volumes had grown to just under 50 00 for the past financial year. In the last financial year 23 new matters were approved for the Impact Litigation Unit.

Mr Jerry Makokoane, Chief Operations Officer (COO) from Legal Aid South Africa, said that slide 43 indicated the performance of Legal Aid SA which included finances as swell. Legal Aid SA adhered to set timelines for purposes of financial reporting. Non-Financial performance touched on integration of reporting and the ethos of best practice. Corporate policies were integrated together. Slide 45 referred to how governance would be dealt with. The governance approach was premised on statutory guidelines. Under relevant circumstances Legal Aid SA followed relevant standards. LEGAL AID SA put effort behind ensuring that supply chain management was equitable in terms of provision and acquisition of goods and services. Legal Aid employed 2500 staff members across the country. The Information Technology (IT) network was spread throughout the country and would continue to be client focused.

Budget
Ms Rebecca Hlabatau, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) from Legal Aid outlined the budget as follows. The budget for 2012/13 had to take into account the R34 million cut and Occupation Specific Dispensation Phase 1 shortfall of R30 million that had to be funded from the baseline allocation totalling R64 million. The funding of over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period was R1.286 billion in 2012/13; R1.324 billion in 2013/14 and R1.415 billion in 2014/15. The bulk of the budget went to salaries and related costs as well as operating expenditure. There was a decrease in the operating expenditure this year in order to cater for the budget cuts. The case backlog cost has increased by 6% year on year. Direct expenditure had a 14% decrease once again as a result of budget cuts and capital expenditure increased by 8%. The salary recruitment budget was reduced to 96.8% in order to cater for the budget of R34 million. In terms of the balance scorecards 68% of the budget went to the client/shareholder stakeholders. The 68% was for salaries for practitioners, judicare practitioners and vulnerable groups. Impact litigation has received a R7 million allocation. R32 million was allocated towards the reduction of case backlogs. R6million was allocated towards financial management under the business scorecard. Overall the budget increased by 8% over the 2011/12 – 2012/13. Some of the challenges that Legal Aid SA faced were the R34 million budget cut which meant that operating costs could not be increased; the R30 million budget cut resulting from the reduction by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) for phase 1 of OSD; the government grants macro increase was 6% whilst the salary adjustments were than this. Unaudited figures indicated that 99.8% of the budget was spent for the 2011; this was the trend for the past 8 years. Legal Aid SA has achieved unqualified audit reports 10years in succession. All of the Auditor General’s (AG) recommendations were implemented within the agreed timeframes.

Judge Mlambo closed by stating that moving forward the focus for Legal Aid SA would be on growing the organisation and sustaining the high performance of the organisation. Legal Aid SA also wanted to find new and effective ways of delivering legal services. IT was also import and the IT platform would grow amongst the business processes.

Discussion
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that Legal Aid SA always gave good reports. The Committee had to do more on oversight on Legal Aid SA at ground level. Could there be more information on the cooperation agreements as they were budgeted for? How was the impact litigation progressing? Was there an overlap between Legal Aid SA and the DoJ&CD over services provided at community advice centres? The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had informal mediation for certain cases, what was Legal Aid SA’s understanding of informal mediation?

Ms D Smuts (DA) said that it was a always a pleasure to listen to Legal Aid SA presentations and hopefully the quality of the organisations work could spread throughout the criminal justice system. Everybody else was struggling with IT systems, what was Legal Aid SA doing differently and what was the secret of the organisation’s success? OSD has been gobbling up so much of the money for every entity, it was now the case that because of this there was the unintended consequence that legally qualified staff now reported to not legally qualified staff, this was brought to the attention of the Director General of the DoJ&CD and she was looking into it. The answer from the Department of Public Service (DPS) was that the unions agreed to this. What was the experience of Legal Aid SA on this? Which aspect of the Legal Practice Bill would have drastic implications for Legal Aid SA? Has the approach changed for impact litigation?

Ms C Chaana-Majeke (ANC) asked how applications for legal aid were processed. Who were the persons that accessed Legal Aid SA’s service from a geographic, socio-economic and gender perspective? This would then relate to branding, how did Legal Aid SA go about this? How was the impact of Legal Aid SA’s work measured? How many cases were handled and what was the success rate? Was there an analysis on the hits received from the website? What informed the means test?

Ms D Schäfer (DA) how much of the civil litigation cases were for maintenance matters and what progress has been made to accommodate these types of cases?

Ms S Sithole (ANC) congratulated Judge Mlambo on his appoint as Judge President in Gauteng. It would be ideal if LEGAL AID SA made use of community radio in indigenous languages so as to enable rural citizens to access their services.

The Chairperson said that he has received a pile of letters from prison inmates and awaiting trial prisoners. There was going to be an oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services in prisons in Gauteng and since legal aid was a role player for purposes of representing accused persons, there may be criticisms directed at it because of the number of awaiting trial prisoners.  Were the contact details of the call centre available at correctional facilities?

Judge Mlambo said that he was aware that whenever the issue of awaiting trial prisoners was mentioned LEGAL AID SA’s name also came up. Legal Aid SA covered all reception courts in the country where arrested persons first appeared and were offered legal aid. The reason why the number of awaiting trial prisoners was growing was that accused persons refused legal aid when it was offered to them. It was only much later in the process that legal aid came in when the accused could not afford a lawyer. Legal Aid SA provided capacity after hours and during weekends when most people were arrested. Legal Aid SA would undertake to send quarterly reports to the Committee. Those who fail the means test but could not afford legal fees were afforded the opportunity to appeal and the matter could go up till national level where necessary. Sometimes the costs were split between the client and Legal Aid SA. The issue of pro bono work was sometimes a matter of calling the bluff of the legal profession. What happens was that lawyers made themselves available on the roster and did not show up, so clients have to be informed where to find these lawyers and get them to assist them. In 2002 Legal Aid SA was using consultants for IT, having IT in-house only impacted on the budget slowly and the rising costs would only relate to maintenance of the system. The major glitch that has been experienced was bandwidth related. It was not ideal that the IT platform for the DoJ&CD from a maintenance and support point of view was outsourced. 

Mr Nair said that there were five cooperation agreements, four were with universities, and this year a further two were signed with universities.  Impact litigation has been good; there was a booklet on the cases and the impact of the unit that would be sent to the Members. There was foreign donor funding for community advice centres that was channelled via the DoJ&CD and there was a memorandum of understanding between LEGAL AID SA and the community advice centres.

Mr Jeffery asked for a copy of the memorandum of understanding. Legal Aid SA’s understanding of informal mediation was that it was restorative justice and could be initiated by the prosecutors and LEGAL AID SA. It was only in relation to less serious crimes. It was recorded as a withdrawn matter.

Mr Jeffery said that the problem was that this was completely unregulated. One might therefore find a case disappearing from the roll because the prosecutor was lazy. The figures were going up exponentially and this was worrying.

Judge Mlambo said that LEGAL AID SA had a similar problem when he took over where practitioners were forcing clients to plead guilty, this was controlled and closely scrutinised as time went on and it was no longer a problem, the NPA should do the same thing.

Mr Jeffery requested some information from the Legal Aid SA practitioners of their experiences of informal mediation. The Committee wanted Legal Aid SA’s perspective as that would assist.

Mr Nair said that this would be fine. The Legal Practice Bill would not have a major impact save for that currently advocates did not need to be briefed by an attorney in criminal matters and this had an impact on the work of Legal Aid SA. The approach for impact legislation would be that a certain percentage of cases should be for socio-economic rights. The means test factors in the type of court that would be used.

Judge Mlambo said that some judges have been reluctant to assist Legal Aid SA when shown the contributions policy. Judges asked if it was part of the Legal Aid Act and was it not ultra vires. This was a problem that would cause backlogs.

Ms Schäfer asked if Judge Mlambo was saying that this should be considered for purposes of amending the Legal Aid Act.

Judge Mlambo replied yes.

Mr Nair continued to say that the annual report did provide a spread on the number of matters handled per province. In criminal cases it was mostly men that were part of the clientele and in civil cases it was mostly women. The contributions policy was only applicable in criminal matters and not civil matters. There were levels of discretion in civil matters whereby a justice centre added R1500 in addition to the legal aid, should the limit be reached the regional heads were authorised to give R3000 and anything above this came to the national office. Legal Aid had had discussions with various women groups and civil society organisations for purposes of access to maintenance and the board was currently tasked with coming up with a policy that would provide more access for assistance in maintenance matters.

Judge Mlambo added that Legal Aid SA had fully implemented OSD and it was happy. OSD benefited more production people such as lawyers. From Legal Aid SAs perspective, OSD had ensured stability as more people were staying.  There were some problems but it was not the target group.

Mr Makokoane said that Legal Aid SA was not on the state grid for IT systems. It has been difficult for LEGAL AID SA to keep pace with the demands for its services and the addition of staff, this has resulted in the bandwidth not being big enough to handle its growth. OSD post implementation effects were supposed to be reviewed after two years and this has not been done hence the unresolved situations. Legal Aid SA had a branding and marketing strategy. The branding was located at courts, correctional services and at Legal Aid SA centres. Community radio, tv and radio stations were used for advertising. The impact of the work was assessed via surveys. There was also a judicial survey that was completed by judges. Legal Aid SA did not keep information on website hits.

Judge Mlambo said that Legal Aid SA measured its success in terms of representations and not cases won.

Mr Nair said that the manner in which applications were processed was that for criminal cased the processing happened at court. Where an internal practitioner was appointed the processing began when it was determined in which court an accused would appear. There may be a delay in judicare however there was a 24 hour turnaround time for when a client was informed of the identity of their representative. One could also walk in and fill out an application form after which a means test was applied and a decision was taken thereafter.

Adv S Holomisa (ANC) asked which universities had cooperation agreements with Legal Aid.

Mr Nair replied that these were the University of Stellenbosch, University of Western Cape, Wits University, Pretoria University, University of Zululand and Rhodes University.

The Chairperson thanked Legal Aid SA and said that the debate for the Budget Vote would take place on 17 May 2012.

Meeting Adjourned.

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