Justice Budget: Legal Aid Board & South African Sheriffs Board briefings

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Justice and Correctional Services

12 April 2005
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JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 April 2005
JUSTICE BUDGET: LEGAL AID BOARD & SOUTH AFRICAN BOARD FOR SHERIFFS BRIEFINGS


Chairperson Ms Chohan-Khota (ANC)

Documents handed out
South African Board for Sheriffs PowerPoint Presentation
South African Board for Sheriffs Annual report 2004
South African Board for Sheriffs Word document
Legal Aid Board Strategic Plan PowerPoint Presentation

SUMMARY
The Board of Sheriffs reported on the successes and the challenges facing the Board. The successes included:
· the development of training programmes for sheriffs
· the establishment of disciplinary committees
· the implementation of communication strategy.

Challenges included the need for amendments to the existing legislation to accelerate transformation and to remedy inadequate financial resources. Members concerns included the slow pace of implementing employment equity and the number of number of disciplinary cases that were pending.

MINUTES
South African Board of Sheriffs
Mr M Makwethu, Board member, reported to the Committee on the successes, challenges and the financial constraints facing the Board of Sheriffs. Milestones included progress in the training programmes for sheriffs to enable them to be effective in their work, the establishment of disciplinary committees and inspectors and an aggressive communication campaign was undertaken to raise awareness about the work of the Sheriffs.

A challenge facing the Board was the lack of buy-in of the transformation process and the Board's limited involvement in new appointments. For example, some of the Advisory Committees had placed too much emphasis on the prospective candidate's financial resources to set up a Sheriff's office. Legislative amendments were needed to allow Board members to be part of the Advisory Committees. Also highlighted were the financial constraints facing the Board as a result of outdated legislation. The Board would have to generate new revenue streams.

Discussion
Ms S Johnson (DA) asked about the composition of the Advisory Committee.

Mr Makwethu replied that that Advisory Committees were composed of the local magistrate, law society representative, one representative from the South African Institute for Sheriffs plus one community member. The Board wanted to be part of the Advisory Committee so that it could push for equity transformation. Provincial Advisory committees would take over from local Advisory Committees

The Chairperson asked the Sheriffs' delegation if they wanted legislative amendments.

Mr Makwethu replied that they wanted legislative amendments.

Ms S Camerer asked about the number of disciplinary cases that were pending, she asked whether the disciplinary cases were a result of improper training.

Mr Fourie replied that disciplinary cases were not a result of poor training. They did not have the statistics with them but they would forward these to the Committee.

Ms Mahlawe asked where were the vacant posts advertised.

Mr Makwethu replied that vacant posts would be advertised in national and regional newspapers and even electronic media rather than at the courts only.

Ms Meruti (ANC) asked why the Northern Cape had only white Sheriffs. She asked the reason why some Sheriffs operated in more than one area.

Ms Bhaduza replied that Sheriffs operate in one area of jurisdiction but in smaller districts would sometimes operate in more than one area. Name tags would indicate where he or she was supposed to work.

Mr Makwethu added that sometimes there was a conflict of interest, as a sheriff might have to perform sheriff work that involved a family member. In this case a provisional appointment of a neighbouring sheriff could be made. He also noted that some provinces' advisory committees were opposed to the transformation process.

Legal Aid Board
Judge D Mlambo, Board Chairperson, reported to the Committee about capacity of the Legal Aid Board to deliver legal services. The LAB had 58 Justice Centres and 35 satellite offices throughout the country. Out of a budgeted staff complement of 1656 posts, 81% of the posts were filled. The filling of vacant posts had positively impacted on improved service delivery at the Justice Centres. He explained that Judicare was the outsourcing of work to private legal practitioners. The LAB was gradually moving away from using Judicare (15,5% in 2003/04 to a projected 10% in the current financial year). Positive highlights for the current financial year were:
· An increased focus on quality which would include focussed training for candidate attorneys.
· The finalisation of the National Coverage Plan which linked service providers with the current resource distribution.
· The Awaiting Trial Prisoner (ATP) programme which aimed at reducing the number of ATPs who were in custody for more than a year.
· The introduction of a Justice Centre performance monitor to enable management to make strategic interventions in areas where performance was not up to standard.

Judge Mlambo warned that the impact of the non-funding of additional projects in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) would result in LAB practitioners having to carry increased workload and the number of cases that were not represented would increase. The Department of Justice would open new specialised courts, which were Community, Sexual Offences and one-stop Child Justice Centres. The capacity of the LAB to deliver quality legal services would be decreased significantly. Client accessibility for legal representation would be decreased. Thus the challenges facing the LAB were to increase client access to legal aid and consultation with clients in prisons. The demand for legal service delivery was not matched by the capacity of LAB to absorb more work. There was difficulty in establishing LAB courts. The LAB had difficulty in recruitment and the retention of staff especially in rural areas. The support given to paralegal services had to increase because of dwindling donor funding to the sector.

Discussion
Ms S Camerer (DA) commented that the public found the Justice Centres useful but she suggested that civil cases should also be part of the LAB work.

Imam G Solomons (ANC) asked who were the other justice stakeholders who were opposed to transformation of the Legal Aid Board. He suggested that the Committee discuss whether the LAB should take civil cases or not.

Mr B Nair, National Operations Executive, replied that resistance came from other courts

Mr Sibanyoni (ANC) suggested that the LAB should meet with the Committee on a regular basis.

Mr Maloyi (ANC) asked why the Judicare budget had been decreasing. He asked why the LAB did not introduce civil work in rural areas. What were the teething problems encountered in introducing the new IT systems?

Mr Nair replied that the IT problems were related to the bandwidth and the inadequate staff training on the use of the new Information Technology. The LAB policy was to gradually allocate fewer resources to Judicare.

Judge Mlambo explained that the LAB approach had been to prioritise criminal cases. The Board had been debating the issue of civil casework for no fewer than four meetings. It was agreed that candidate lawyers needed to be exposed to civil work. The LAB would roll out civil work on an incremental basis because their core mandate was criminal work.

Mr Nair replied that Judicare was administered at the National Operations Centre, but then it had been allocated to regional and local Justice Centres

The Chair said that the Committee would engage with Judge Mlambo at the beginning of October to deal with the budget issue and how it was going to be affected by the Children's Bill. These sessions between the LAB and the Committee often highlighted challenges but the discussion sessions tended to overlook the progress achieved by the LAB since 1994. A couple of years back a lot of money had been thrown into what she called "a black hole" without proper planning. The Committee had seen and appreciated the commitment of the work of the LAB. She urged the LAB to convey this message to their staff.

The Judge noted that they had had feedback from the Lower Court Management Committee about problems experienced on the ground. For example, at the Johannesburg High Court there were forty applications from prisoners fighting for parole who were without representation.

The Chairperson asked whether the LAB had a dedicated unit that dealt with data analysis.

Mr Nair replied that training was arranged for staff members who would be responsible for data analysis.

The Chairperson suggested the LAB should prioritise their legal mandate which would then enable the Committee to increase the budget allocation for civil work. She felt that the LAB could extend their services to the rural areas because urban areas were serviced by non governmental organisations.

Ms S Camerer (DA) asked why the North West Province, which was sparsely populated, had the same number of Justice Centres as the Western Cape. She enquired why there were still many vacant posts

Judge Mlambo replied that some Justice Centres were small and those in the sparsely populated regions were only satellite offices with a small core staff.

Ms Meruti (ANC) asked for the amount of money spent on the Boeremag trial.

Mr B Gordon, Chief Financial Officer, replied that it had consumed more than R2 million since it started.

The Chair commented that the purpose of the interaction between the Committee and entities such as the Legal Aid Board was not for back-patting, but to work together to achieve common objectives. There was a huge gap in South Africa between the poor and those who could afford to hire lawyers. The Committee supported the work of the Board.

Meeting adjourned.

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