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SECURITY AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
10 September 2003
INTERIM RATIONALISATION OF AREAS OF JURISDICTION OF EASTERN CAPE AND KWAZULU-NATAL HIGH COURTS: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Kgoshi ML Mokoena (ANC)[Northern Cape]
Documents handed out:
Notice of Alteration of the Areas of Jurisdiction for which High Courts have been Established: Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
The Committee was briefed by the Department of Justice on the temporarily rationalisation of the High Courts jurisdiction, especially in the area of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. There was a consensus that even though this rationalisation is a temporary one, the Bill which would soon be tabled in the Parliament, would formalise the whole process undertaken by Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice, Judge Presidents and the heads of courts.
Mr E Allers (Department of Justice) noted that the purpose of the Interim Rationalisation of Jurisdiction of High Courts Act was to enable the Minister, after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, to alter the area of jurisdiction for which a High Court has been established. The aims of the Act include the promotion of efficiency and equity in the administration of justice. To effect these aims, provincial task teams were established throughout the country. However when the Eastern Cape task team could not reach consensus to resolve the issue of its four High Courts, a meeting between the Chief Justice and the judges of the province was convened. Consensus was reached at this meeting that there should be only one Division of the High Court in the province and that should be in Grahamstown. The other three High Courts, namely Umtata, Bisho and Port Elizabeth would be Local Divisions and other districts were reshuffled accordingly.
Mr B Mkhaliphi [ANC, Mpumalanga] noted that although the briefing is very clear and self explanatory, it would be better if there was map presentation so as to make it clear for those who are not familiar with the areas where changes are proposed.
Mr N Maloyi [ANC, North West] asked whether in altering the courts jurisdiction did the Department take into account the distance between the districts that would be served by its court.
Mr Allers noted that the proposed alteration of the High Courts jurisdiction is also proposed in the Bill itself, which would be tabled in Parliament in due course. The Bill notes that there should be only one High Court in the Republic and the rest be provincial divisions of the High Court. Therefore the alterations of the High Court's jurisdiction takes place in anticipation of the changes brought by the Bill. The heads of courts had been involved so that they could have a voice in determining the issue of the accessibility of courts and the availability of resources to their communities.
Mr Mkhaliphi asked when this process would take place.
Mr Allers replied that as they are still trying to ready the Bill for tabling in Parliament. Then n the whole process would be determined by how long the Bill takes to be finalised in Parliament. Notwithstanding that, the Department would like to implement this as soon as possible and not later than the first session of Parliament next year. It should be borne in mind that the Minister has already started to make appointments in anticipation of the Bill.
The Chair asked whether there would be any officials who would be affected by the changes and if so, would that be negative or positive?
Mr Allers replied that obviously there would be officials who would be affected as they are trying to rationalise the jurisdiction of the courts country-wide. However whatever happens it should be noted that this process is being done in the interests of the public and of justice. However, fair practice would be adopted as far as possible.
Mr Maloyi noted that it would be proper for the Committee to get a detailed explanation of the process in order to really understand the whole plan so as to be able to explain it to their constituencies. He also asked for the Department to provide the Committee with its administration implementation plan, which should include personnel, finance and other plans.
Mr Allers said that the Notice document is based on the final report of the task teams but he would submit to the Committee the detailed report - on which this final one is based.
Mr Mkhaliphi noted that the rationalisation and appointments are being done in anticipation of the Bill. What would then happen if changes are effected to the Bill, itself.
Mr Allers replied that when the Minister makes an appointment he does so in consultation with the heads of the courts and the rationalisation is being done through their consensus. Therefore the changes in the Bill would not necessarily affect this process since it is based on what the court had initially agreed on and also takes into account the practical situation on the ground.
The Chair said that these appointments are based on temporarily arrangements which would be formalised by the Bill. It should be understood that they aim to bring the courts closer to the people. He therefore appealed to the Committee to allow the department to continue with its temporarily arrangements.
The Committee then unanimously adopted the report.
The meeting was adjourned.
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