In this virtual meeting, the Select Committee received a briefing from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on the public input and its response in respect of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill. The Deputy Minister was in attendance.
Public comment largely focused on the method of selection of the executive of the NPA, favouring more open and transparent processes involving the public and Parliament, as well as arguing for shorter maximum suspension periods for the NDPP and DNDPPs. Submissions on the division of assets in divorce were also made. The Department noted that the only comment with relevance to the substance of the Bill was how long suspensions should be able to last. The Constitutional Court’s preferred a shorter period, but the Department had opted for a 12-month period as a reasonable period of time for the long-lasting disciplinary processes.
Members did not raise any issues and the Chairperson indicated that the adoption of the bill would be considered at the following meeting..
The Chairperson noted that the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill sought to amend the Divorce Act, 1979, to further regulate the division of assets and maintenance of parties in divorce proceedings in accordance with a judgment of the Constitutional Court, as well as the National Prosecuting Authority Act so as to deal with aspects pertaining to the term of office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and Deputy National Directors of Public Prosecutions (DNDPP).
The Select Committee had received 10 submissions.
The Chairperson ceded to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) for a summary of submissions on the concerned acts.
Briefing by DoJ&CD
Ms Virginia Letswalo, State Law Advisor, DoJ&CD, introduced the submissions and the Department’s responses thereto.
The Africa Criminal Justice Reform Network (ACJRN) had submitted that the amendment to the NPA Act deviated from the Constitutional Court order in that the maximum suspension period was 12 rather than 6 months. The DoJ&CD answered that the twelve-month period was proposed for pragmatic purposes. The ACJRN further proposed amending the NPA Act to expand the selection process of the NPA top echelon, which the DOJCD noted would not be possible in this Bill due to time constraints.
COSATU proposed that a clause formalising the process followed in the appointment of the current NDPP (i.e. the use of a panel of experts to interview candidates) should be included in the bill. DoJ&CD responded that a change of this nature would require extensive public consultation which would slow the Bill’s urgent passage.
Dr R Naidoo had stated his opposition to long-term suspension with full pay under circumstances where the incumbent NDPP/DPP where the official concerned has clearly committed an unlawful act, and proposed summary dismissal of these officials. The DoJ&CD responded that in order to protect the NPA’s independence and follow the labour law processes; this was not possible.
Father’s Rights Movement proposed that traditional adversarial approaches used by courts for civil litigation does not work for family law. The DoJ&CD responded that the adversarial approach was a keystone of SA law,
K Buthelezi submitted that the Divorce Act should be repealed in order to eliminate challenges of the division of assets and custody of children. DoJ&CD responded that it was not possible to deprive citizens of a legal mechanism for divorce.
MN Sodumo proposed that Parliament should review the laws relating to the division of assets in the event of divorce due to women and children being left disadvantaged by equal partition where the husband had not contributed to the acquiring of assets.
MK Aphane proposed that there be legislation regulating cheating in a marriage – the DOJCD responded that such a law would amount to an invasion of privacy.
Ms Theresa Ross, Principal State Law Advisor, DoJ&CD, argued that none of the comments warranted an amendment, nor were there amendments proposed to the Bill besides COSATU’s, which would require long-term public consultation and thus slow the passage of the bill.
Deputy Minister John Jeffery proposed that the only comment with relevance to the substance of the Bill was how long suspensions should be able to last. The DoJ&CD noted the Constitutional Court’s preference for a shorter period, but the DoJ&CD had opted for a 12-month period as a reasonable period of time for the long-lasting disciplinary processes.
The Chairperson noted the comments received were fairly straightforward.
Noting no members’ questions, she appreciated the input of the DoJ&CD, and she proposed tabling for adoption in the following meeting.
The minutes scheduled to be dealt with in the meeting were deferred.
The meeting was adjourned.
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