The Committee met to receive an overview by the Minister on the budgets of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, and the Office of the Chief Justice and Judicial Administration. Owing to time constraints, he was able to highlight only aspects of Justice and Correctional Services in his presentation.
With regard to Justice, the main points that came out were that the Integrated Justice System needed to be readjusted in order to link all correctional facilities to relevant government departments, like Police and Home Affairs, and to provide real time information on inmates and other data. The justice system had to be inclusive and accessible to all members of society and not exclude certain members due to financial constraints. In order to achieve sound policy goals, good infrastructure, financial resources and human resources (HR) were required.
With regard to Correctional Services, the Department was moving away from looking at facilities as prisons, but rather as correctional facilities so that young people and all offenders that left them had the skills that could help them to find employment once they were back in society. South Africa was a high crime country and the Department was working hard towards making every South African feel safe. There was therefore a need for harsher sentences of offenders.
The Chairperson stressed the need for more black judges and lawyers to be involved in land claims cases, to reduce the perceived bias when white judges and lawyers were involved. Members asked what the Department was doing to normalise relations with the Public Protector, and what the latest status on the al-Bashir saga was. They called for severe penalties to be imposed on those convicted of violent crimes against women and children, and urged a clamp down on corruption, especially when contracting out services.
Mr Michael Masutha, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, began by apologising for the lack of documentation not submitted to the Committee due to the fact that the meeting had been moved from 6 April to 5 April at short notice, and there had been no time to prepare documentation as the Committee requested the Minister to present to them urgently.
He said it was important, when talking of justice and corrections, to highlight the civil aspect involved. A social order could not prosper without security, and for social and economic order to thrive, one needed a justice system that was socially inclusive. There was a need to maximise conviction where such justice was required, as well as acquittals where people had been found innocent or acquitted of charges.
By identifying the weaknesses and weak links within the justice system, public confidence could be restored and women and children could walk the streets and feel safe in South Africa. The Integrated Justice System (IJS) project was an automation tool used as a platform to bring together Correctional Service, Police, Social Justice and other organisations in order to create portals within the system that received and transmitted data in an instant. The constitution enjoined the Department to ultimately achieve an integrated justice system in South Africa so that all aspects of society or populations could find solace in an integrated justice system.
The common law system was a customary system used by the Romans and the Dutch, and even though it no longer used this system, South Africa was one of the countries in the world that drew principles from this law.
The justice system must be inclusive instead of exclusive. Legal aid had played a great role in inclusiveness and had transformed itself with the view that every South African should have access to legal services and have a competent lawyer represent him/her in criminal or civil matters instead of being excluded due to lack of finances.
South Africa was becoming a heavily indebted society and the courts were busy dealing with the concept of justice for all. A good justice system did not come cheap, so it was important to look at the priorities and inefficiencies in order to determine how they could be overcome and make the Department efficient and cost effective. The Department aimed to come up with a new bill to reorganise the lower judiciary into the chief justice and other superior courts.
Mr Masutha pointed out to the Committee that he was giving an overview of the presentation due to limited time and that Committee members should feel free to ask questions on key issues that might not be highlighted.
In order to achieve policy objectives the following tools were necessary: good infrastructure, financial resources, and good management of human resource (HR) issues. Constraints were prevalent in relation to HR. In 2014, government had introduced the occupational specific dispensation programme to create incentives for professionals with high end skills and attract new people into the public sector, as well as incentives for current staff so that they did not leave the public sector.
There was a need to reorganise the State Attorney’s office from an HR perspective. The state litigation account was a critical tool to help achieve transformation across all spheres of government and provide inclusion. The current government had invested a lot of resources into supporting the poor, and recognised corruption as a threat to them. Therefore it needed to protect the little gains that the poor had acquired because there was always someone looking to corrupt the system.
There was a need to promote equal opportunities for disabled people and women, as well as issues such as clean governance and black economic empowerment (BEE).
Every court needed to have at least one Deputy Judge President (DJP). Small towns like Umtata, Bisho and surrounding areas needed to have their own courts so that citizens did not have to travel far to seek justice. The Department had gone on rounds to all the courts and had met all the judges to find out what their challenges were, and how these could be overcome.
The vision for corrections after 1994 had been that the Department would no longer be running a prison, but rather a corrections office.
Mr Masutha said that two days after he was appointed as Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, he had been faced with a court order within 30 days to rule on the parole of a high profile criminal, Mr Eugene de Kock, and this had required the Department to review the parole system. To this day, the Department was constantly challenged with litigation on the parole system. It was focussed on shifting from looking too much into incarceration, to focussing on Correctional Services as a facilitator of the National Development Programme (NDP) vision to make sure every South African feels safe. Young people and all offenders needed to come out of a correctional service facility with skills so that they were able to continue with their lives and seek employment. There was no law that stated that someone who had a criminal record could not be employed, but obviously one could not employ someone who, for instance, had distinguished him/herself as a fraudster in an accounts division. He supported his point by quoting the Lord’s Prayer’s “not to lead one into temptation”.
In terms of Information and Communications technology (ICT), the IJS and Correctional Services formed part of the system. Each of the 247 correctional facilities were stand-alone entities with their own servers which were linked to one another and shared real time information, so that inmate information was captured.
The Chairperson interrupted the Minister’s presentation and advised him that his time was up and that there needed to be time for questions and remarks from Committee Members.
The Chairperson asked how the Department delivered justice to people in rural areas where there was no access to roads and other infrastructure. Unless communities were empowered to police themselves, how did one ensure swift distribution of justice?
In the Integrated Criminal Justice System, no department knew what the other departments were doing because they were working in silos. He said that the Integrated Justice System was a “story” and departments needed to engage with other departments.
The justice system was technical and formal, and prohibited certain people from accessing it due to language barriers and other factors.
The African Union (AU) had produced a charter on the rights of the child, the rule of law, etc, but South African government departments were in line with the United Nations (UN) definitions and this needed to be revisited and adjusted.
It was Parliament’s job to deal with legislation. Lawyers were guarding their interests, not the public interest, and this needed to be readjusted so that Parliamentarians could deliver to the public.
An issue that could bring down the country was the ‘land claims issue’. Most judges presiding over land claims were white judges, and when rural people came before a white judge and were represented by white lawyers, they did not believe that justice would be done. Transformation needed to happen and if need be, black judges and lawyers must be trained
Mr W Horn (DA) asked what the outcome the al-Bashir saga had been. The Committee and the public had not heard anything on the proceedings of such a high profile case.
In respect of the Chapter Nine institutions and the Public Protector, what would the ministry do to normalise the relationship with the Public Protector, and would there be fresh thinking about budget provisions for the office of the Public Protector?
Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) referred to the issue of language which had been mentioned earlier, and asked when that work would begin.
When were Chapter Nine institutions likely to know what they should do?
He commended the Minister for trying to limit the tender system and make departments do the work themselves in order to limit corruption.
He asked about the extent to which his Department discussed with other departments the work it did which might affect them, such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in relation to the issuing of licences to taverns which had been found to be high crime spots in South Africa. How did one limit the number of people coming to the courts and correctional services?
Mr M Maila (ANC) expressed his concerns about the IJS, and would like to see the issue moving forward.
Overcrowding in correctional facilities was becoming a cluster problem, and much of the budget was assigned to incarceration. He would like to see other parties doing their work.
Mr B Bongo (ANC) said there was a need to look at the Correctional Services’ structure, and to reconfigure it properly. The issue of the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD) and the extent to which it was limiting how government departments performed, needed to be looked at, but he was satisfied with the improvements thus far.
Ms C Pilane-Majake (ANC) noted that there had been a good improvement on clean audits, and she wanted this standard to be maintained.
In relation to third party funds, she hoped to see progress following the legislation that had been developed to deal with historic problems stemming from the apartheid era, where finances had been mismanaged.
The IJS project was not really progressing. She wished to see the IJS getting full attention to make sure the justice system was fully connected. Drug addiction was one of the biggest problems and led people into theft to feed their addiction. Measures were being taken by government to ensure that all water taps were made from plastic and not copper, because they were being stolen and sold by addicts.
In the HR area, there was a need to look at the appointment of women, and she wanted to see harsher sentences for crimes against women and children.
Corruption needed to be fought vehemently, especially when contracting out services.
The Chairperson requested that the Minister give an overview of responses due to time constraints, and that the detailed responses be sent in writing to the Portfolio Committee.
The Minister said it was relevant to have discussions with government departments to find out what was happening on specific issues, and he would engage with them on flagship issues relating to the budget.
On the al-Bashir matter, he could not recall a timeframe, but what had been done was to note an application to appeal the deadline. There had not been a sitting of Cabinet to discuss the al-Bashir matter.
With regard to the Public Protector, he said that when he became Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, he had started the process of ensuring cooperation, as had been requested the Public Protector.
Regarding the resourcing of institutions, there was a need to ensure that with limited resources they were making maximum use through allocating them carefully.
With regard to transformation of the profession and paralegals in the face of human rights institutions and the justice system, great work had been done in responding to this issue and poor people had access to legal advice even if they could not afford such services themselves.
Harsher sentences were been implemented against all offenders, especially those who offended against women and children. This also applied to what some people considered “minor offences,” such as drunken driving, because people could die should this result in an accident.
On the issue of the IJS programme, Correctional Services had been working hard towards enabling it to be a good partner in the system, and the Police, Home Affairs and other departments should have their own automated systems designed in a manner defined by a proper integrated system.
The meeting was adjourned.
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