The Committee considered the progress made on the undertakings made by the President of the Republic of South Africa during the NCOP session on 27 October 2020. Undertakings related to the establishment of additional Specialised Commercial Crime Courts (SCCCs).
The Department of Justice and Correctional Services presented its progress report in which it highlighted six new SCCCs which were established in the 2020/2021 financial year.
Members asked if the courts were going to be established in the bigger centres where commercial crime incidents were high; asked about the jurisdiction of the SCCCs; asked about the readiness of the courts considering functionality and human resources; asked if the arrangement of the new courts would not strain the courts; asked which of the courts were fully operational; and asked which language would be used in the courts.
The Chairperson read the meeting agenda and it was adopted.
The Chairperson asked the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffrey, to lead his Department with the presentation.
Input by Deputy Minister
Deputy Minister Jeffery said he was there on behalf of Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mr Ronald Lamola, to talk about the rise of commercial crimes and Covid procurement corruption. According to the undertaking made by the President in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on 27 October 2020, the establishment of additional Specialised Commercial Crimes Courts (SCCCs) would be fast tracked and the capacity of the existing ones would be increased. The Department is in the process of establishing SCCCs in Polokwane, Mbombela, Mahikeng, Mmabatho, one in East London, one in Giyani, and one in Limpopo.
Progress Report on Undertakings
Ms Elisabeth Picarra, Chief Director: Court Services, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, made the presentation on behalf of the Department. She addressed the progress made with the SCCC project governance framework, and the budget utilised for this. Six new SCCCs were established in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, and Northern Cape.
Speaking on the budget, she said the Department received R40 million annually, for three years, which was ring-fenced for the SCCC project. A total of almost R23 million had been allocated from the funds thus far.
[see presentation attached for further details]
Mr C Dodovu (ANC, North West) said it was a very good initiative and he hoped it could be expedited so the courts could be fully functional to fulfill its objectives.
He asked about the North-West, which had one regional court in Mafikeng, and a specialised court.
He wanted to know if there was any intention of establishing the courts in the bigger centres such as Klerksdorp and Rustenburg, where commercial crime incidents were highly reported.
He also asked about the jurisdiction of the courts, and if the courts authority was limited to the districts.
Ms S Shaikh (ANC, Limpopo) noted the increase in the number of SCCCs as an achievement. She said it was important for these courts to be functional and well-resourced to fulfill its responsibilities. On enhancing the SCCCs, she said the Department was making progress.
She said a monitoring mechanism to monitor efficacy would likely only be in place at the end of the financial year, as per the Department’s presentation. She also asked about the jurisdiction of the SCCCs and implementation.
The Chairperson asked about the appointment of staff and the readiness of the courts, from the point of view of human resources. He also asked which courts were fully functional which were not.
Deputy Minister Jeffrey said the courts were special courts, and were also temporary courts at regional level, not district level. It had an Acting Regional Magistrate selected by the Regional Court President of the particular area it was in. East London and Mmabatho were functional, and had acting magistrates who were appointed in May and April respectively. The success of the courts was mainly linked to the enthusiasm of the regional court presidents.
The Regional Court President: Eastern Cape, Mr Mziwonke Dunywa, said the East London and Port Elizabeth crime courts were successful, while Mmabatho SCCC had a few challenges. Pietermaritzburg was the only one yet to be operational in the current financial year. There would be enhancements to existing commercial crime courts in Pretoria, North Palm Ridge, and Durban.
Adv JB Skosana, Chief Director: Judicial Policy Development, DOCJD, said regional courts exercised provincial jurisdiction, and were established in the main districts in the province. The Provincial President had the right to move cases around in accordance with provincial jurisdiction. Criminal cases were not as rigid in jurisdiction, unlike civil cases. Civil case jurisdiction had gone through an amendment, therefore lawsuits were only lodged in areas demarcated by the Minister.
He said there was an intention to build more courts in the major centres. The starting point was to create the courts at the seats of the regional courts in the provinces, for example Mafikeng. When cases arose from the other major centers, the Judge President (JP) would request additional appointments from the Deputy Minister, and use the budget to enhance existing courts by appointing additional resources to hear matters as immediate interventions.
If there was a continuous demand for courts, a different mechanism would be set to ensure additional resources were sustained. The Department received a budget from Treasury which is over and above the baseline, and is worth R40 million. It was earmarked for this purpose. Over time, Treasury would transfer additional funds to the baseline amount, to become part of the baseline allocation. The funds were given upfront to deal with the schedule of the cases. As the State Capture Commission concluded, more cases from corruption and fraud arose. This meant the Department expected there would be more opportunities to create sustainable capacity around those courts.
A budget of R13 million was allocated to Legal Aid South Africa to augment its capacity, and to ensure requests made for Legal Aid practitioners was met. The Department was also able to cover cost of interpreters, court clerks, and provision of equipment such as court recording technology (CRT) machines.
The project team established around the courts started monitoring the cases outside of the courts already, so the case rolls could inform the enhancements. Where the case rolls showed an increase, there would be a movement of resources to where it was needed. This would be managed by the regional court presidents.
The Chairperson asked if temporary personnel were deployed in the courts, especially at the level of presiding officers, as this would create strain, since most rural provinces had one regional court. The regional courts were already facing issues of capacity because of the demand of the cases on the roll. He asked if this would not cause problems in the commercial courts; and if it would not compromise the quality of processing the cases in those courts. He also asked if the issue of language was considered.
The Deputy Minister commented on the question of permanent and temporary personnel, and said it would depend on certain factors, for instance the commercial crimes court in Mmabatho could hear cases outside its jurisdiction but the problem could be the distance people would have to travel. There were several cases at Mbizana which could be heard at Mmabatho, but it was a long distance away from each other. The idea of the specialised courts was to deal with commercial crime issues only, because it had the necessary expertise.
On quality, he said there were no problems raised and the acting regional magistrates were carefully selected by the presidents, of which one or two were private practitioners. The Department would still monitor the courts closely.
Addressing the question of language, he noted the Chief Justice and the heads of court had said even though people were allowed to use any of the preferred languages, English would be the language of record.
Adv Skosana addressed the issue of permanency of the courts, and said it would be informed by the volumes and trends. National Treasury was unlikely to take away the funds. Although it started out as a project allocation, having exhibited the purpose for the funds over time, Treasury would provide the funds as part of the overall allocation. The Department would then be able to create permanency around the positions. The R40 million allocations were requested to address the issues of corruption through the interventions government looked at, after the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, which was to address rising corruption. Permanency around the positions, especially around Legal Aid and the judiciary, would only be created if the needs were established and sustained. The Department could then motivate for a budget to be part of the baseline. The Department already started a process to create permanency around the CTR clerks and those functions which were continuous in nature. Adjustments would only be made if the court numbers increased, and only after the courts were running. Only then would the Department make a case of permanency to National Treasury. If the project was made on a pilot basis, Treasury would only provide funds on a pilot basis.
Other Committee Matters
The Committee agreed to move to accept a draft report for the Ministry of Social Development.
The Committee moved to accept the previous meeting’s minutes.
The meeting was adjourned.
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