Legal Aid South Africa on its 2011/12 Annual Report

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Justice and Correctional Services

08 October 2012
Chairperson: Mr L Landers (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Legal Aid South Africa reported that it had successfully completed the third year of its 2009-2012 Strategic Plan period and was able to achieve most of the strategic shift it had set to achieve in that period. In 2011/12 it provided access to legal aid to indigent clients – handling 682 962 legal and legal advice matters. It increased civil legal aid by 48% due to increased civil practitioner capacity. Legal quality remained a focus and a priority and generally legal practitioners met their quality targets. Strong financial management and governance were reflected in the 11th unqualified audit and 7th year of no matters of emphasis. The non-compliance with tax clearance certificates in judicare matters was being attended to. A people-development focus continued as confirmed by the successful accreditation for the third year as a Best Employer.

The Committee members congratulated Legal Aid South Africa on its accomplishments. Members asked about the use of agencies where there were already Legal Aid Centres present. There was also an exchange about the exact numbers of employees versus the number of budgeted posts and how Legal Aid managed their expenditure for its number of employees. Questions also included requests for detail on the Children’s Act and the allegation published about the Boeremag. There was a suggestion that because of Legal Aid’s large footprint in the country, its offices be used as a gateway for people to reach other agencies such as Chapter 9 organisations.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said he had been informed that the Chairperson of the Board would not be able to attend the meeting but that was fine as he was sure that Legal Aid SA had brought qualified people. 

Presentation by Legal Aid South Africa (LASA)
Mr Jan Maree, Non-Executive Director and Committee Member, LASA, introduced the report with a short overview. This was the second integrated report that reported on financial and non-financial performance against the Strategic Plan 2009-12 as well as the Annual Performance Plan 2011-12. The integrated report reported on social, economic and environmental considerations that had a bearing on the future of the organisation, the environment within which they operated and the communities they served. It included reports on an overview of the organisation as well as issues and trends impacting on it, sustainability, corporate social investment and stakeholder engagement. LASA reported on its compliance with Global Sustainability Reporting Initiatives (GSRI). The Integrated Report included a statement from the governing board acknowledging its responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the report. 2011-12 completed the three-year period of the LASA Strategic Plan 2009-12. The presentation also reported on progress against the recommendations of Budgetary Review Recommendation Report (BRRR) of the Justice Portfolio Committee dated 26 October 2011.

LASA operated within a strong governance framework which included an effective and functioning governing board and audit committee, compliance with the Legal Aid Act, Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury regulations, 100% implementation of all recommendations of the King III Report on Corporate Governance, compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), and an effective and independent internal audit department. The Legal Aid Act was in the process of being redrafted and a new Legal Aid Bill was expected to be tabled before Parliament in 2012.

Ms Vidhu Vedalankar, CEO: LASA, went through the statistics that Legal Aid had produced over the year. Legal Aid now had 2 470 people working in 64 Justice Centres and Satellite Offices and 13 high court and civil units. They had covered 428 653 criminal and civil cases. 95% of these matters were handled by the Justice Centres while the remaining 5% was handled via Judicare, coops or agency agreements. There was also a 50% drop in children cases handled by Legal Aid.

Regarding non-legal functions delivery, Matrix Management had been further consolidated. Functional management committees continued to assist in monitoring performance of support staff at both Justice Centre level and regional office level. The matrix function had been fully embedded resulting in effective operations; risk based management had been further consolidated. A dedicated training programme was implemented in response to identified capacity needs of administrative managers in Justice Centres. There was the development of Business Intelligence (BI) as a tool for information management was extended to financial modules in addition to the first group of legal modules rolled out in 2010/11.

The mobile computing concept requirements and specifications were completed and a pilot project on this would continue in the new financial year. This would enable legal practitioners to have access to Legal Aid IT system from courts.
           
LASA’s Leadership programme was also further developed. This included a self development phase with supporting toolkit developed and implemented for staff use. There were an additional 30 candidates enrolled in the University of the Witwatersrand Leadership Development Programme. Psychometric assessments for managers were conducted with the purpose for development, training and coaching. Focused training was provided on analytical thinking and systems and strategic thinking. Employer brand strategy was enhanced and included an internal brand audit consisting of a staff survey which was conducted to improve positive perceptions and understanding of staff on organisational leadership practices as well as employer brand experience. Furthermore, employee wellness had been improved by hiring an industrial psychologist on a permanent basis to implement vicarious trauma assistance programmes. There were also vicarious trauma workshops conducted for all High Court Unit professional assistants.

Annual Financial Statements and Auditor-General’s Report
Ms Rebecca Hlabatau, Chief Financial Officer, LASA, said 99,8% of the budget was spent as planned while there was no under-expenditure, which had been the expenditure trend for the past seven years. There had been efficient management of all fixed assets and vehicle fleet management. There was also functional and efficient Supply Chain Management except for an issue with tax clearance certificates. In addition, 96,9% of trade creditors were paid within 30 days of invoice date and 99,7% of judicare accounts were paid within 30 days of receipt of invoice.

The 2011/12 financial year was the 11th year in succession of an unqualified audit report Matters raised by the AG included non compliance with practice note 8 of 2007/08 reported by the Auditor General (Tax Clearance Certificates not obtained for expenditure greater than R30,000 in judicare matters)

MTEF 2013–2016: Budget Cuts & Additional Funding Request
Noting the risky global economic environment, the deterioration in the domestic economic outlook, the Treasury Guidelines for the preparation of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) 2013 required further efficiency cuts from government departments and public entities.

The key changes to MTEF 2013-2016 required:
▪ keeping spending within the overall ceiling established by Budget 2012,
▪ finance spending pressures and new priorities from within the spending baseline
▪ shift from consumption to economic investment by the public sector and
▪ re-prioritised baseline allocations to fund higher priority areas and close underperforming programmes
▪ implement baseline reductions of 1% in 2013/14, 2% in 2014/15 and 3% in 2015/16 with a decision on baseline reductions to be made by the Ministers’ Committee on the budget guide by the MTEC.
▪ Performance Information being fundamental to realising government’s strategic and policy priorities and improves accountability would be critical for successful programme budgeting.

The economic recession had impacted on government’s fiscal planning and commitments. In terms of managed expenditure to be in line with its income and to be able to reduce its debt burden, government also had to take into account the impact of budget cuts on service delivery to its citizens; LASA performance on service delivery, financial management, governance and people management was at the highest level and the organisation delivered on its mandate of increasing access to justice for the indigent. The current legal aid service delivery level was already insufficient to meet the demand for legal aid – criminal and civil. The LASA budget and capacity was also lower than its counterparts in the justice cluster. It had effected cuts in Year 1 of the MTEF period to non-salary items to have no impact on court services. It was not able to absorb any proposed budget cuts in Years 2 and 3 of the MTEF period without it impacting further on reduced legal aid capacity to service the courts and its clients. It was in critical need for additional funding to improve current court coverage percentages. LASA would also be required to provide capacity to newly opened courts. It would not be able to service any new courts without the budget to fund personnel for those courts. LASA’s inability to service new courts without the necessary budget would impact on court performance. It therefore proposed to government that it consider the impact of efficiency cuts for LASA on court coverage and not implement any efficiency cuts. Further, that any court expansion programmes factor in a budget allocation for legal aid capacity to service those courts, if they were functional.

Budgetary Review & Recommendations Report (BRRR)
The Portfolio Committee had recommended in its 2011 BRRR that:
 
LASA be provided an additional R133 million and R54.7 million in the MTEF period to improve its practitioner capacity and to continue to increase its civil work, respectively.
LASA be allocated an additional R37.5 million over the MTEF period to expand its national footprint, making its services more accessible.
▪ LASA receive an additional R7.5 million over the MTEF period for the upgrade of its IT servers.
▪ LASA continue to provide information quarterly on:
-how implementation of the Child Justice Act had affected it, and any other observations.
-the co-operation and agency agreements concluded and their impact on improving access to services.

LASA received an additional R20m funding during 2011/12. The money was used to establish 44 civil practitioner posts in order to increase capacity to render civil legal aid. R3.165m was allocated for the implementation of the Children’s Act. This was used to create six children specialist practitioner posts. R10.55m was allocated for the implementation of the Child Justice Act. This funding was used to create 23 District Court and 6 Regional Court practitioner posts.

In terms of the Child Justice Act, LASA had ensured that all legal practitioners had undergone training on the implementation of the Child Justice Act as developed by Street Law for the Integrated Child Justice Steering Committee. There was currently no requirement that legal representation must be available for all preliminary enquiries. There was also no exclusion of legal aid for these enquiries. LASA had therefore agreed to provide legal representation at preliminary enquires as requested by magistrates, as well as when requested by clients. The numbers of children assisted in criminal matters had decreased during the last financial year. They believed that this decrease could be attributed to the impact of the Child Justice Act, resulting in more children being diverted out of the criminal justice system. Funding of R10.55m was made available to Legal aid for the implementation of the Child Justice Act. This money was used to create 23 District Court and 6 Regional Court practitioner positions

Report on Completion of Strategic Plan 2009-2012
In the 2009-12 period its focus was on legal services delivery which included new ways of increasing access to justice within resource constraints. LASA also wanted to increase practitioner per court ratio and thus improve caseload management and quality. In addition they wanted to improve specialist capacity to serve vulnerable groups. Independent quality assurance would be implemented and functional. LASA also wanted to consolidate the Legal Aid brand thus increasing public awareness of independent quality legal aid services and the implementation of programmes and projects from the CJS Review. LASA said it would like to enhance the IT platform from serving internal needs to also increased access to justice meaning they wanted to play a role in delivery of services. In addition they would like Business Intelligence made available to all staff to improve management of their performance.

Highlights of the 2011/12 performance report
LASA assisted clients in 682 962 legal matters – including 254 286 to general advice clients; 382 125 (89%) in criminal legal aid matters and 46,528 (11%) in civil legal aid matters. This was a 46% increase in coverage impact and a 94% success rate for finalised impact matters. It achieved a 66% success in Supreme Court of Appeals matters handled by LASA practitioners. A judicial officer survey confirmed overall satisfaction with service provided by LASA. Stakeholder consultation commenced and finalised in October. Survey had very positive comments but also had issues raised which were primarily due to budget constraints (capacity in courts and increased civil legal aid).

Regarding finance and sustainability strategies, 99,8% of the R1,270 mil budget was spent as planned which meant that there was no underexpenditure. This had been the expenditure trend for the past seven years. Brand strategy showed positive responses with perceptions of LASA growing by over 7% last year.

Business Processes (Internal) Strategies: Targeted risk based management approach enhanced. Further developments in the use of technology realised with Business Intelligence modules and a mobility concept for use by legal practitioners developed. The Strategic Plan for 2012-2017 was finalised.

Employee & Organisational Capacity Strategies: LASA accredited for the third consecutive year as a Best Employer, and placed second in Empowered Employer category. Recruitment level was at 96%. Staff turnover rate for the year was at 4.59%. Targets for leadership development programmes and training for staff exceeded targets for the year. All categories of practitioners achieved legal service delivery quality targets. Legal training targets were exceeded.

Challenges
▪ Capacity at regional and district courts was insufficient to adequately meet the demand as well as provide a limited relief capacity to deal with staff absence.
▪ High turnaround times at Regional Court and High Court led to increased backlogs at court.
▪ There was also insufficient civil capacity to meet increased demand for civil legal aid services.
▪ There were high numbers of awaiting trial detainees in custody for excess periods.
▪ There was non-compliance on tax clearance certificates in judicare matters as noted by Auditor General. ▪ The IT challenge: problems with K2 patching, finalisation of K2 upgrade, finalisation of switch to sharepoint platform which all impacted on speed and stability of the IT system.
▪ Dependence on candidate attorneys to render services at district courts negatively impacts on perception and sometimes service delivery

Ms Vedalankarconcluded by reminding Members that LASA had provided access to legal aid for indigent clients with 682 962 legal and legal advice matters – which was a notable achievement – as was the increase in civil legal aid by 48% due to increased civil practitioner capacity.

Discussion
Mr J Jeffrey (ANC) said that he was extremely pleased with Legal Aid but it was the Committee’s job to make sure they did oversight. He was curious about a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) report that was released that stated the South African Human Rights Commission was unhappy with LASA and their cooperation in terms of PAIA. He also noticed that the slide on Child Justice was the exact same slide from their presentation. That did not seem to make sense neither did their allocation of funds for Child Justice. They created 23 district and six regional posts in both 2011 and 2012 and that did not seem possible.

Mr Jeffrey said that the Committee had asked for quarterly reports from Legal Aid not just annual ones. He asked why there was not a cooperation agency agreement and asked how much it cost. The use of agency agreements was also questioned. On a more particular note, he said that Legal Aid could not say technically that they were compliant with the Legal Aid Act because according to the Act, an updated version must be published annually which had not occurred.

The Chairperson told the delegation that they would arrange for Legal Aid to view the PAIA report.

Ms D Schafer (DA) congratulated LASA on their annual achievements. She had a question about the tax sheets that the legal providers were not giving to Legal Aid. She asked if the huge lack of them was because of a lack of oversight. Also, did the trust deposits create a problem for LASA?

Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) asked specifically about agency agreements. He was curious as to why there were agency agreements in areas where there was already a LASA office. The time limit that came with these agency agreements was also brought into question. He was curious to know about some of the success stories with the agency agreements.

Ms C Pilane-Majake (ANC) asked about LASA’s internal audit and how many people on the audit committee were external from LASA. She also congratulated LASA on their report.

Ms M Smuts (DA) congratulated LASA on a sensational report. She was curious what LASA thought about the news article on Sunday about the Boeremag which she believed that LASA had represented. She explained that there was a sensational story that reported that legal information between the members of the Boeremag and their legal team had been intercepted by the police and turned over to the prosecution. She was also curious about what role LASA could play in the unclogging of the legal system particularly the issue with accused being detained, trial times, and missing trial transcripts.

Mr Jeffrey interjected saying that this happened often with awaiting trialists who should not even be there because their crime was not even punishable by prison time.

Response
Ms Vedalankar told the Committee that they had provided quarterly reports and had sent them to the Committee.

Mr Jeffrey interrupted, asking whether anyone in the Committee had received the reports which none of them had or could recollect.

Ms Vedalankar apologised and said that the reports would be sent. She went on to say that the Children’s Act expenditures were basically the same because that was how much it cost to keep to the employees on for the financial year with a slight increase for property costs.

Mr Jeffrey said that the wording was wrong and wanted the CEO to be clear that new positions had not been created but merely maintained. He said that they merely “cut and pasted” from last year’s report which created wrong information.

Ms Vedalankar said they had not cut and pasted but they merely had worded the information wrongly.

Mr Jeffrey said that he did not agree with that.

Ms Vedalankar said they would agree to disagree and that she knew that the Committee did not like cutting and pasting.

The Chairperson said that he wanted to know about the PAIA report.

Ms Vedalankar said that she was very unhappy with the PAIA report because it was untrue. Legally one could not use PAIA when one was in court and there was going to be an official judgement about this. In terms of the audit reports, she explained that one of the members of the audit committee had resigned so currently there were five members on the audit committee, of which three were external members.

Ms Pilane-Majake thanked the CEO for the clarification but said that the report seemed to show only what was desirable.

Mr Jeffrey said that he wanted LASA’s statistics on children because those of the South African Police Service seemed to be off. He again asked the question about the successfulness of service agencies.

Ms Vedalankar said that they did not have the statistics on children in the report but that they wanted to do more in terms of domestic violence. In terms of the alignment of services, she said that just because a town was in a province, it did not mean that the closest office was in the same province and that there were no provincial boundaries. She also agreed that the lost records of trials especially in Gauteng was an issue. She then handed over to her colleague.

Adv Wilna Lambley,
Regional Operations Executive, explained the issue of proximity. There had been reshuffling of offices and agency agreements. There was constant oversight and discussion about which offices should serve which communities. In terms of the lost transcripts, most of these had occurred in Gauteng. It was due to a turnover in terms of the people who managed the transcripts. As of now, most of the transcripts had been found but there were still 40 to 50 missing.

She went onto say that the Boeremag practitioners were only briefed by Legal Aid but they would be looking into reports that an alleged witness had come forward with this information. This however would probably not create any appeals different from the law’s regular appeals process The Judge would have to make a decision about this and what the law said.

Ms Vedalankar said that 25% of their legal providers had applied for tax sheets while 25% had said that they would not provide LASA with any of them.

The Chairperson asked if these legal providers would be used by LASA if they failed to produce tax clearance certificates.

Ms Vedalankar said, yes, they would be terminated if they were in the middle of any trial proceedings.

Mr Maree added that a tax clearance certificate had never been required for a legal provider.

Mr Jeffrey asked about the discrepancy between staff and number of posts in terms of their expenditure in their budget for each. He also asked if Legal Aid had been in touch with Chapter 9 organisations and if Legal Aid could accept complaints on behalf of a Chapter 9 organisation if such organisation did not have an office in the area. Legal Aid’s footprint throughout the country could make this cost effective and he asked if Legal Aid would be open to the idea.

Mr Jeffrey asked why land cases were up so dramatically this year or last year and their status in relationship with rural development, and also why had Duty Care gone up. He also inquired about the costs of cooperation agreements and the status of the criminal justice review.

Ms Vedalankar said that she could not comment on helping with Chapter 9 organisations because she would have to discuss it with her staff first. In terms of the discrepancy with the posts and employees, it was very clear in the report. They had allocated a certain amount of funds but they knew that those positions could not be filled so they adjusted the budget.

Mr Jeffrey said that the expenditure could not be 99% with the figures that they had.

Ms Vedalankar said she would send the information to the Committee.

Mr Jeffrey then asked for clarification on the IT budget.

Ms Vedalankar said that they had not been given the proper budget for IT and thus Legal Aid had suffered because of it.

Mr Jeffrey said that the Committee would get in touch with the Treasury and find out why the IT budget for LASA had not been fulfilled.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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