Legal Aid South Africa would continue to offer legal aid services to the poor in both criminal and civil matters. There had been no budget cuts, but constraints would prevent significant expansion of the current services being offered. The call centre provided primary legal advice, while self-help modules were being developed which the public could access from the website.
The budget for the forthcoming financial year was R1.4 billion. The major components were salaries (R1.0 billion), addressing case backlogs (R34 million), direct expenditure (R103 million), operating expenditure (R216 million) and capital expenditure (R31 million). Salary increases were 6.3%. There was an allocation of R10 million for the implementation of the Children's Act and Child Justice Act.
Significant issues dealt with during the past year had been the toilet saga in the Western Cape, and the silicosis case. Legal Aid was busy with a programme concerning street children. There was an addictive substance in glue and Legal Aid was trying to get this removed. There was also a case on customary marriages, where the Act was silent. The compensation of domestic workers was also a problem, as they were excluded from certain Acts. The Pioneer Foods matter had gone to appeal. The constitutionality of the Criminal Procedure Act was being challenged in the Stuurman case, where the law required that an accused who could not understand the proceedings should be detained as a State's Patient.
Members raised questions regarding cooperation with the Human Rights Commission. Amendments to the Legal Aid Act might not be passed before the end of the year. Families of the deceased had been represented at the Marikana Commission of Enquiry, although this was not normal practice. It was explained that practitioners needed some office time to prepare cases, and below High Court level they could attend trials for only four days of the week.
Members expressed their admiration for the quality of the work being done by Legal Aid. The one fault they found was that they were not marketing themselves, as the public was often unaware of the good work they were doing.
Presentation by Legal Aid South Africa
Judge Edwin Molahlehi, Deputy Chairperson, Legal Aid South Africa, apologised for the absence of the Chairperson, and introduced the presentation. The focus would be on the Annual Performance Plan (APP).
Ms Vidhu Vedalankar, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Legal Aid, said that some of the key programmes would be highlighted, which would give an idea of the work being done by Legal Aid. There would be not much expansion given the difficult economic climate. In the previous year the organisation had faced budget cuts, but none was anticipated in the current year. It would not now be necessary to hold some posts. Coverage would at least not become any worse.
Ms Vedalankar said that an important international development was the adoption of a United Nations convention on access to justice in criminal cases. This would be observed by all member countries.
Mr Brian Nair, National Operations Executive, Legal Aid, noted that there were minimal changes in the strategic plan for 2013/14. In the last financial year, there had been budget cuts. In the current year there was little additional funding, and the focus would be on maintaining existing programmes and projects. There would be a focus on the shift in targets from the past to the current year.
Strategy I was on delivering client-focused legal aid in criminal matters, especially to vulnerable groups. The target was to move towards to 85% in district courts and 100% in regional courts. Funding would be needed for this. There would be a special focus on children in conflict with the law. All children in custody for more than a month would be tracked. Another area was addressing delays in courts.
Strategy II dealt with delivering quality legal services in civil matters. Increased access was needed to civil legal aid. The output was to increase the number of clients served. Over 31 000 matters had been handled in the previous year. The target was to grow the number of clients assisted by 10%, while keeping a turnaround ratio of 30% of cases finished within 18 months.
The next issue was providing legal aid for children. There was also a link needed to the Master's office in matters of estates. This was an ongoing programme, and Legal Aid wanted to grow the number of clients assisted. There had been six corporate partners in place, a number which had since grown to eight, to assist with civil cases.
Strategy III was delivering client-focused primary legal services. There were two programmes to deliver client-focused quality legal services, and expanding the capacity to render quality telephonic assistance. This would provide first-level assistance to clients and would assist where no litigation was needed. The baseline was 234 000 clients assisted. The target for advice matters was to grow by 5%, and 10% for telephonic advice.
Strategy III also included self-help modules which were aimed at assisting the public to help themselves in legal matters. Information was published on the website. The target was to develop at least four new self-help modules.
Mr Nair said that Strategy IV was delivering client-focused impact legal aid services. Programme 10 dealt with the impact litigation unit. This was to assist in matters of class litigation. The target was to increase the number of matters handled by 10%
Strategy V was developing new and alternative methods of increasing access to justice. One of the projects in programme 11 was developing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. There was a programme to test the feasibility of reducing the reliance on litigation to settle disputes. There was a pilot programme of arbitration.
Strategy VIII dealt with increasing accountability to stakeholders by forging stakeholder partnerships. Some of them were the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster, law clinics, the media, international bodies and others. The programme should be implemented annually, ensuring that the mandate was realised. Programme 18 dealt with supporting legal aid in developing countries. Legal Aid wanted to assist neighbouring countries. The target was four interventions.
Strategy IX was accounting to Parliament and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJCD) on performance and governance issues. Project 19-1 dealt with accountability to the shareholder. The target was four quarterly reports and an annual report, as well as dealing with any matters raised in Parliament. Specific compliance issues arose from the Public Finances Management Act (PFMA) and the mandate to provide legal services to the poor.
Strategy X was maintaining financial sustainability Programme 22 dealt with best practice financial reporting. The target was compliant financial reports and unqualified audit reports. This reporting was already compliant with best practice. The targets were to continue to ensure compliance with best practice and standards.
Strategy XI dealt with increasing sustainable non-financial performances. There were two programmes dealing with risk management,. This should be reviewed annually. Project 28 dealt with fraud management and fraud prevention. Managing risk was critical to sustainability. Mitigating measures should be put in place to ensure that the organisation performed optimally.
Strategy XII was about complying with good corporate governance practices. Outputs would be quarterly PFMA compliance reports and an annual King III compliance report. The board should meet its performance plan and have a succession plan in place. The target was 100% compliance. The same strategy included programme 31, which was internal audit. The targets were the implementation of the audit coverage plan, encompassing all risk components. The unit provided assurance to management on risk and fraud management, and control systems.
Mr Nair said that Strategy XIII was developing a sustainable brand. Outputs were annual review of the brand position and marketing strategy. There had been branding at key points such as prisons, courts and police stations. The target was a 95% implementation of the marketing plan, and accurate branding at the key points.
Strategy XVI was maintaining a regulatory framework incorporating best practices. Programme 36 was based on implementing the Legal Aid Act. The new Bill should be enacted. Transitional arrangements would have to be put in place it the Bill was enacted.
Strategy XVII dealt with maintaining strong financial and supply chain management (SCM). SCM committees should be effective and functional. All creditors and judicare practitioners should be paid within 30 days of presentation of invoices. There had been a high rate of compliance in the past year. The legal aid guide had been revised, and now provided for SCM guidelines specifically for judicare.
Mr Nair told Members that Strategy XIX dealt with maintaining a national footprint. Due to budget constraints, no new offices were planned. The focus would move to ensuring proper maintenance of the offices and ensuring that they continued to meet client needs. At present there were 64 justice centres, 64 satellite offices, six regional offices and one national office.
Strategy XX was developing and expanding the legal quality and expertise for each segment of the national footprint. Initiatives were in place to ensure the quality of legal services, online research support for practitioners and strengthening legal expertise. The independent legal quality assurance unit would assure that quality services were delivered. All practitioners should be reviewed every two years.
Strategy XXI dealt with developing talent and improving competencies to serve business needs and integrating competencies into related programmes. Programme 50 was key, dealing with talent recruitment and management. Outputs were achieving 96.5% of recruitment levels, reducing the turnaround rate by 0.25%, and ensuring that succession planning was implemented. Career pathing was in place. The target was to ensure that staff capacity was available. Employees had to know how they could grow within the organisation. Succession candidates should be properly capacitated. Recruitment levels and turnover rates were monitored. The current turnover rate was about 1.8%. A middle management course was being developed for staff.
Mr Nair concluded that Strategy XXVI dealt with building a stable information technology (IT) platform. The network needed to be improved both in terms of hardware and software. There was an in-house system which needed to respond to business needs. There had been prolonged errors recently, and the system might have to be redeveloped.
Ms Rebecca Hlabatau, Chief Financial Officer, Legal Aid, said that the strategic plan, year-on-year increases, future sustainability, the proportion of direct service delivery costs and the Capital Asset Replacement Programme (CARP) had been considered in drafting the budget. It had grown to R1.3 billion over the year. For the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) period 2013-2015, there would be no budget cuts. R10 million had been allocated for the Children's Act and Child Justice Act. 80% of the budget went to salaries and related costs. This amounted to R1.0 billion for 2013/14. R34 million would go to addressing case backlogs, R103 million in direct expenditure, R216 million on operating expenditure, and R30 million for capital expenditure.
Salaries had increased by 10%. The assumptions had been an increase of 6.1%, related to the consumer price index (CPI). Increases for 2013/14 would be 6.6%. Treasury had not indicated if it would make up this shortfall. The total variance on the budget compared to 2012/13 was an 8% increase. Capex had increased by 10% due to an allocation of R5 million to redevelop the IT system.
In terms of the balanced scorecard, 66% had been allocated to core service delivery. This included payments to legal staff. The other major component was 23% towards employee and organisational capacity.
R10 million had been allocated for the Child Justice and Children's Act. Six civil PA posts had been created and 16 posts for Divisional Courts and Regional Courts. Two High Court posts had been created. R20 million had been allocated to increase legal capacity. Recruitment levels would be increased as a result from 96.8% to 98.3%.
Ms Hlabatau said that R28 million had also been allocated to improve conditions of service.
The 2012/13 books were still being closed, but it seemed that 98% of the budget had been spent. There had been an unqualified audit report for 2011/12, although there was an emphasis of matter relating to SCM. The policy had been reviewed and updated. Four recommendations made by the Auditor-General had been implemented.
Judge Molahlehi summarised that the priorities had been to provide legal services to all clients. The telephone contact centre was an important component. Quality service delivery would be maintained. Good governance would be continued. The administration IT system was to be updated. No budget cuts had brought great relief, allowing Legal Aid to maintain its presence in the required areas.
Mr J Jeffrey (ANC) said that Members were always impressed by the performance of Legal Aid. Extra money had been allocated for children in conflict with the law. He asked if children were represented in preliminary hearings, as this was not part of the Act. Children should not be in custody, and he asked why there was a one month cut off. The focus should be on children held in prison for whatever period. He asked if the Human Rights Commission (HRC) had approached Legal Aid on representation. He asked if the amendments would be brought to Parliament, as he thought this would not happen before the election. The programmes were not individually costed, and this made it difficult to determine what priority each carried. Had the Marikana Commission impacted on the budget? He noted the gifts presented at the meeting. He found the 3G card unnecessary, and the pamphlet was inaccurate. The website was not up to date. This needed to be attended to.
Prof L Ndabandaba (ANC) asked which African countries were being assisted. He asked if these were related to Programme 20.
Ms M Smuts (DA) said that the gifts were typical of the flair with which Legal Aid marketed and conducted itself. She admired their work. She had not seen the reported 90% success rate before. She asked what impact cases had been concluded.
Judge Molahlehi replied that he should have brought the Annual Report. The cases had been discussed in detail. The toilet saga in the Western Cape had been one of these matters. There had been some involvement in Africa. He and the Chairperson had made regular visits to brief neighbours on the work being done and to share experiences. He recalled a visit to Zambia, and he had received regular reports on how they had adopted and adapted the South African model. One of the aspects was how the pro bono aspect had been incorporated. This was increasing access to justice.
Ms Vedalankar added one of the big current matters was the silicosis case. They would send booklets documenting the cases to Members. There were no formal partnerships with legal aid bodies in other countries, but there were ongoing exchanges. The gift was in fact only a memory stick with the presentations loaded on it. She knew that there might be criticism.
Ms Vedalankar noted the criticism about the website. Legal Aid had only assisted the families of the deceased at the Marikana Commission. They normally did not act in such commissions, but in this case there could be further repercussions from the findings. The cost to date was R2 million, with another R2 million during the course of the enquiry. If legal representation was to be provided at similar commissions, then funding had to be made available.
In Annexure A of the budget document there was a detailed list of expenditure. In the APP document the budget figures for each programme were included. It was heart-breaking to hear that the Legal Aid Bill had been delayed. The Minister had sent it out for consultation.
The Chairperson said that there were processes to be followed by the National Assembly, National Council of Provinces and Presidency. Things did not happen immediately.
Ms Vedalankar said that a 2012/13 guideline had been sent to the Ministry. On impact litigation, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) had approached Legal Aid. She did not know if there were any specific cases.
Mr Nair said that there had been a good meeting with the HRC in February. There were cases requiring legal aid, and they were happy to take these on. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would be drafted. No cases had been forwarded yet, but Legal Aid was waiting for the MoU to be concluded. Legal Aid had been appointed in preliminary hearings when directed by the magistrate. Individual tracking of children detained for more than one month was a function at a national level. Regional managers had to take the necessary steps immediately when a child was detained, but where this period lasted more than a month, the national office had to be alerted.
Legal Aid was busy with a programme concerning street children. There was an addictive substance in glue and Legal Aid was trying to get this removed. There was also a case on customary marriages, where the Act was silent. The compensation of domestic workers was also a problem, as they were excluded from certain Acts. The Pioneer Foods matter had gone to appeal. The constitutionality of the Criminal Procedure Act was being challenged in the Stuurman case, where the law required that an accused who could not understand the proceedings should be detained as a State's Patient.
Mr Jeffrey said that the Committee was impressed by the work done by Legal Aid, but they were terrible at marketing themselves. He noted the issue of booklets, but they should consider press releases and various other opportunities to highlight the good work they were doing. The issue of glue sniffing was particularly newsworthy. There had been unannounced visits to Regional Courts. Legal Aid should be given a copy of the report. The target for representation at District Courts was 50-60%. Resources were limited, and staff needed time off for administration duties. Magistrates should plan their time properly, and action should be taken against magistrates and prosecutors who hampered the work of Legal Aid. The Higher Courts Bill should alleviate matters.
Judge Molahlehi said that in the Labour Court, cases were not handled on Mondays and Fridays. These days were used for case preparation and interviews. The staff were much better prepared when the case came to court. Sometimes a person planned to represent him or herself, but was then referred to legal aid. Lawyers taking on these cases often did not have time to prepare, and were criticised in court.
The Chairperson said that the investigation by the Public Service Commission (PSC) was not meant to trip Legal Aid up. There had been some damning findings, such as Legal Aid only being present for four days and not five. Other organisations such as the South African Police Service (SAPS) had received even harsher criticism.
Mr Jeffrey said that there had been reference to linkages with the SAPS. He asked how Legal Aid's information system integrated with other bodies.
Mr Nair said that there was a CAS system used by SAPS, which was linked to Legal Aid. The intention of the programme was to record the details of the arrested person. Legal Aid then knew that a certain person would appear in court, but not in which court. Cape Town alone had about ten different courts. This level of detail needed to be included. There was an ongoing project, although it was in a pilot stage.
Ms Smuts said that the fifth day issue had been raised.
Ms Vedalankar said that in District Courts, Legal Aid practitioners were present for only four days of the week. They dealt with other matters on the fifth day. Practitioners were present on all five days in Regional Courts. There was a shift system in place which ensured that a different practitioner would be present on the fifth day. She added that at District Court and Regional Court level, Legal Aid did attend the forums of magistrates. There was good cooperation. This did not always work at a local level. Some magistrates wanted to do things their own way.
Judge Molahlehi said that the Chief Justice had introduced a number of forums. This matter should have been raised at one of these forums, but the matter would be raised at a forum.
Mr Jeffrey advised Legal Aid to distribute the pamphlets to constituency offices. They should also be available in the different official languages.
Mr Nair said that Legal Aid had not paid for advertisements on the television show “Isidingo.” One of the managers had assisted the producers with scripts in his spare time, and in return for this favour, free advertising space had been provided.
The Chairperson added his congratulations for the work being done. The Committee was always available to provide assistance.
Ms Vedalankar thanked those who had helped convince Treasury that any further budget cuts would have led to cuts in Legal Aid's services. The additional funds had allowed Legal Aid to increase recruitment.
The meeting was adjourned.
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