Minister & Department on Budget: briefing

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Justice and Correctional Services

07 May 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 May 2000
BUDGET VOTE HEARINGS

Documents Handed Out:
South African Law Commission Programme
Department of Justice - The Millennium 10 Point Plan
Department of Justice - Legislative Programme
Briefing - Minister Penuell Maduna
Briefing - Justice and Constitutional Development
Position of Acts

SUMMARY
The committee heard from the Minister and Director-General of Justice and Constitutional Development regarding the state of the Department.

Discussion focused on the congestion within the lower courts, and the inadequacy of the Legal Aid Board. The Minister assured the committee that measures were being taken to correct these problems, which included accepting offers from senior members of private firms to assist Legal Aid prosecutors in preparing and presenting their cases.

The Minister was also questioned on how the Legal Aid Board would pay off R248 million of accrued debts. The Minister was unable to answer how the debt would be paid.

The Director-General also addressed the committee. The Justice Department will appear before the committee until Wednesday.

MINUTES
There were two items on the committee's agenda for the day. First, a report given by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development on the state of the Department, and secondly, a briefing by the Director-General of the Justice Department. The Justice Department is scheduled to appear before the committee until Wednesday.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development presented his report to the Committee. (see Appendix)

Discussion
(Q)Mrs Camerer (NNP) asked for clarification on the additional expenses for the external auditors that were used to audit the Legal Aid Board?

(A)The Minister responded that the auditors were paid at standard market rates, but that additional costs were a result of contractual obligations, such as travel expenses. The contracts for the auditors ends 31 May 2000 and will not be renewed.

(Q)Mr Swart (ACDP) asked what was the current status of the private sector assisting in easing the backlog of cases facing the Legal Aid Board?

(A) The Minister replied that the Department had received letters from the private sector offering a broad range of services, free of charge, to help decongest the courts. These services included senior members of firms acting as judges, and providing assistance to Legal Aid prosecutors in preparing and presenting their cases. The Department had accepted these offers, and are currently working on a plan to start implementing these services. The Minister admitted that the Department has been slow in utilizing these services but expected immediate action to be taken.

(Q) Mr Schmidt (DP) asked what steps had been taken to ensure that speedy trials take place?

(A) The Minister responded that they were facing various problems with respect to speedy trials. Primarily, prosecutors often lacked adequate information to argue their cases, which resulted in trials being delayed. In addition, due to the high illiteracy rate among the South African Police Services (SAPS), the documentation provided to the prosecutor pertaining to the arrest was often of no use. This has resulted in cases being dismissed because of insufficient evidence and improper documentation. These problems are further exacerbated by detainees who often arrive late to the courts, or have to leave court early in order to return to the prison by a specific time. To solve these problems, the crime cluster has been meeting on a weekly basis to assess the weaknesses within the system. Training programs have also been implemented to better enable the staff to deal with these problems.

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Ms Cheryl Gillwald, added that resources needed to be re-allocated from administration to service delivery. This would ensure that more staff could deal with the backlog of cases. She warned the committee that this problem would not be solved all at once, but as a result of an "incremental process."

(Q) The Chair asked what measures were being taken to ensure that Legal Aid prosecutors would produce more adequate results?

(A)The Deputy Minister responded that they are currently trying to establish a new legal framework that will ensure greater financial accountability. It was made clear that that the current structure was not servicing the demand, and that a more effective structure was needed. As part of a short term interim plan, the Department is looking into increasing the service and capital expenditure by conducting a cost-audit to determine the validity of implementing a "salaried-lawyer model." It is expected that this will allow for 220 public defenders to be placed in the courts. It is also being looked into whether some of the case load in the magistrate's courts could be shifted to the High courts. This would alleviate the deficiencies that exist in the lower courts. The Department is currently addressing how transfer of payments would take place. Finally, areas are being prioritized as to which High Courts are the most congested. Prosecution offices are being established in those areas to alleviate the burden.

(Q) Ms Jana (ANC) asked what was being done to improve the management of the courts?

(A) The Minister stated that there had been significant improvement in this area. Magistrates and prosecutors had been clustered into groups to ensure proper management. In addition, magistrates were now being hired from the private sector, as opposed to the standard practice of using senior public prosecutors. The Department was also looking at the management of human resources to determine areas where services were being duplicated. Workers from these areas were re-deployed to fill positions where vacancies existed.

(Q) Ms Jana (ANC) asked for an explanation in the delay of implementing both the Domestic Violence Act, and the Maintenance Act, and asked whether the committee could expedite the procedure regarding the regulations?

(A) The Minister replied that the Domestic Violence Act had been fully implemented, and that they had received positive feedback from the Courts. The Maintenance Act was partially implemented, with the exception of the section dealing with maintenance investigators. It was expected that this section would be implemented in the near future.

(Q) The Chair asked for comment regarding the latest Auditor-General's Report of the Department of Justice?

(A) The Minister replied that the report was hopeful, but still far from satisfactory. He was confident that the Department was moving in the right direction.

(Q) Ms Camerer (NNP) asked whether the Department intends to allocate funds to the Legal Aid Board to cover the R248 million of accrued debts?

(A) The Minister responded that this was a serious problem. The money appropriated for the Legal Aid Board was not sufficient to cover both accrued and current debts. The allocated funds must first be used to ensure that they are fully serviceable. This requires that current debts be paid. The Legal Aid Board had received an additional R107 million from the Department to pay off a portion of the accrued debts, but they are till unable to pay the remaining amount. The Department had suggested that separate accounts be established to deal with current and accrued debts, but were unsure of how the accrued debts would be paid. The Minister will approach the Treasury Board to ask for more funding.

Ms Camerer asked whether opposition parties would be able to speak to the visiting the United Nations Rapporteur regarding such matters as the independence of the Bench?

(A) The Minister responded that it was not the rapporteur's intention to meet with political parties, but that the Department would arrange for such a meeting to occur.

Briefing by the Department
Adv V. Pikoli, Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development provided the committee with an overview of the current status of the Department. Reports on the budget, personnel, legislation, Courts, and service delivery structures will be heard this week.

Discussion
(Q)Ms Camerer asked what steps had been taken to address the claims of financial mismanagement and nepotism by the heads of management within the department?

(A) Adv Pikoli responded that the matter had been referred to the Public Protector for investigation, who had since submitted a report outlining certain recommendations. He felt that, based on the evidence, it was necessary to institute misconduct hearings. The department is currently looking for representation to act on their behalf.

(Q) Ms Camerer asked for the department's view on the matter of independence in relation to Chapter 9 institutions?

The Chair stated that the independence of Chapter 9 institutions should be covered by the Public Finance Management Act, although he found it problematic that the Department was given a lump sum of money for it's institutions. He suggested that the Finance Department be accountable for delegating funds to each institution. Adv Pikoli replied that he had approached the Department of Finance regarding establishing a different process, but had yet to receive any response. The Chair stated that the committee would submit a report on this matter.

(Q) Dr Delport (DP) criticised the department for appointing unqualified people to management positions, and asked why there was a lack of qualified management within the department? .

(A) Adv Pikoli admitted they were experiencing problems related to under qualified management. He stated that the problem did not go above the management level, insisting that all the Directorates were aptly qualified. Measures were being taken to ensure management received proper training. He reiterated that the department was faced with many issues, including the deplorable conditions of court buildings in poor areas. Steps are being taken to address the sum-total of all the issues facing the department, but it would be unrealistic to expect a short-term solution to any of these problems.

(Q) Mr Solomon (ANC) asked for an update on the implementation of the Whistleblowers (Protection of Disclosures) Bill?

(A) Adv Pikoli responded the Bill will be implemented as soon as it become an Act. The Bill still requires the approval of the NCOP.

The meeting was adjourned.

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