Legal Aid Board 2006/07 Budget: briefing

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Justice and Correctional Services

06 March 2006
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

 

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 March 2006
LEGAL AID BOARD 2006/07 BUDGET: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms F Chohan-Khota (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Report to Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development (Annexure "1")
Annual Report by LAB 2005 (Annexure "2")
Report by LAB to the Committee
Legal Aid Board Strategic Planning

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed on the Legal Aid Board’s priorities and in particular its strategic plan for the period 2006/07 to 2008/09, the budget and expenditure for 2004/05, the projected expenditure for 2005/06 and the 2006/07 budget. The successful rollout of Justice Centres and Satellite Offices were highlighted. The Board had further improved the efficiency of their support platform particularly with the transition to an integrated software package as regards their finances and legal administration. Its focus was on improving access to clients and communities and the improvement of legal service delivery. Its problem areas included the ability to meet the needs and demands of communities particularly in rural areas and that the lack of equitable funding across the Justice Cluster may affect the ability to respond to such needs. The Board confirmed that for the new financial year their focus would be on strengthening their client focus and on increasing the quality of legal services delivery and addressing the challenges of sustainability.

Members raised numerous questions relating to the Board’s staff expenditure; number of legal representatives per court; service delivery to rural areas; retention of personnel and the balance between criminal and civil matters.

MINUTES
Legal Aid Board (LAB) presentation
Judge Mambo explained that this presentation dealt with the LAB’s priorities and in particular its strategic plan for the period 2006/07 to 2008/09, the budget and expenditure for 2004/05, the projected expenditure for 2005/06 and the 2006/07 budget. In particular, a 3-strategy plan has been developed, each strategy with its own programmes. Strategy 1 deals with the delivery of quality legal services; Strategy 2 deals with the development of human capital to support the delivery of quality services and Strategy 3 deals with the development of institutional capacity to support the delivery of quality legal services. In this regard, the Department of Justice’s plan was reviewed to ensure alignment of the LAB’s plan with that of the Department’s. In the interim, the LAB’s plan has been forwarded to the Department of Justice for comment.

The nature and contents of the presentation are as set out in Annexure "3" and below.

The presentation centered around 4 central issues:

Budget and Audit matters;
Legal Services Delivery;
Human Capital Management;
LAB Challenges.

1) Budget and Audit matters
Ms R Hlabatau (Acting Chief Financial Officer) discussed the budget and expenditure for 2004/05, the projected expenditure for 2005/06 and the 2006/07 budget. With reference to the 2004/05 budget and actual expenditure she advised that the budget had decreased by 1% from 2003/04 due to a roll over of funds of R62 million (included in the 2003/04 budget) as compared to the R47 million in 2004/05. Expenditure for 2004/05 as at 31 March 2005 was R386, 3 million. This amount comprised of Staff Expenditure (51%), Rental Agreements (4%), Capital Expenditure (1%) and Other Expenditure (44%). Ms Hlabatau advised that staff expenditure included both legal and administrative staff; as regards, capital expenditure, this related to the purchasing of computer equipment etc and other expenditure included within its scope of judicare commitments.

The budget for 2005/06 was R484, 8 million. In terms hereof, National Treasury had approved the retention of R89 million for contingent liability in the 2004/05 annual financial statements, primarily for judicare commitments.

She advised that but for the allocation of R10 million for the purchase of Legal Aid House (which will be finalised in 2006/07), these funds would be spent in its entirety. She further confirmed that the National Treasury would be requested to approve a roll over of these funds.

Accordingly the budget for 2005/06 as at 31 March 2006 was cited at R563, 3 million (Staff Expenditure (45%), Rental Agreements (3%), Capital Expenditure (3%); Other Expenditure (49%)) whereas the projected amount at same date amounted to R552,4 million (Staff Expenditure (42%), Rental Agreements (3%), Capital Expenditure (2%); Other Expenditure (53%)).

The Chairperson asked for a break down on staff expenditure. How much pertained to legal and how much to administrative staff?

Mr B Nair (National Operations Executive) advised that the Annual Report (Annexure "2") provided a schedule of salaries. He confirmed that a legal person (with the exception of a candidate attorney) would normally start on a level 8 salary. Management’s commencing salary was between level 7 and 8. Candidate Attorneys started on level 1 and 2.

The Chairperson enquired as to the reason for the R89 million that had been retained to provide for contingent liability in the 2004/2005 annual financial statements, primarily for judicare commitments.

Ms Hlabatau advised that these funds were for the purposes of meeting financial commitments where instructions had been issued to attorneys but had not as yet been paid.

On the 2006/07 Budget, Ms Hlabatau confirmed that the budget amounted to R466, 4 million. Accordingly (as per their calculations) the available cash flow would be in the amount of R480 million. An additional amount of R35 million had been allocated after detailed motivations to the National Treasury.

Mr Nair confirmed that the R35 million was to be allocated to 9 programmes, namely, New Courts Budget, Children’s Units; Commercial Crimes Units; Increase – General Advice Capability; Increase – Justice Centre capacity to meet demand; Increase – Justice Centre management capacity; Increasing access – satellite office extension; provision of administrative capacity at Justice Centres and provision for staff in support departments.

On the issue of the R35 million, Ms S Camerer (DA) enquired whether this was over and above the initial funding.

Ms. Hlabatau advised that the R35 million was in addition to the initial funding for 2006/07.

Ms. Hlabatau pointed out that the LAB had received an unqualified audit opinion in 2004/05 but the following problems were identified, namely that the fixed assets system of controls did not operate effectively throughout the year and there were weaknesses in the general computer controls. Accordingly systems were improved, the IT system was bedded down, the control issues were addressed, the financial statements were withdrawn to effect material changes before resubmission – as the IT system could not accurately determine the accrual for Judicare – the Judicare accrual was amended to reflect as a contingent liability and processes have been implemented to accurately quantify the Judicare contingent liability.

2) Legal Services Delivery:

Mr Nair advised that although the national roll out of Justice Centres had been completed, the need for additional offices would be continuously reviewed. Overburdening of work on current employees was to be monitored.

The new offices to be opened are linked to the Justice Centre offices already existing in rural areas. He advised that 13 such offices with two people per centre would be opened and dedicated as children’s courts. A further 10 in other areas were also envisaged, however, these were not necessarily for the purposes of children’s courts only.

The chairperson requested a copy of the list of the 13 new offices to be opened by the LAB.

According to Mr Nair, the LAB used a mixed model system. Judicare used to be the primary service delivery source; the primary delivery vehicle now being through the justice centres. However with the co-op agreements, Judicare was being used in more specialised matters.

According to the statistics, the justice centres were meeting delivery targets, with new matters increasing by 9% and finalisations by 25% last year. Judicare accordingly dropped, but Mr Nair confirmed that it would be retained at approximately 10%. This indicated a shift from Judicare to the justice centres.

Mr Nair further advised that the LAB currently funds 6 partners, however the use has decreased as a result of the LAB’s capacity to service these areas.

Client satisfaction surveys had been implemented and were monitored and national judicial officer surveys had been conducted in order to obtain independent feedback on the quality of service. Training opportunities had increased, and a focused training programme (which was monitored) for candidate attorneys had also been implemented. Once qualified, they would have complied with the requirements of the Law Society. The LAB was further working closely with stakeholders, identifying problems and solving them.

The awaiting trial prisoner programme would continue, with the focus on awaiting trial child prisoners (CAT). He confirmed that they had a list of every child which was monitored by his office and a monthly report on the status and interventions taken by the LAB in these matters is filed.

Mr Nair further advised the Committee that a new IT system had been implemented which although problematic at first, appeared to be stable. This system integrated finance and legal administration.

3) Human Capital Management:
Ms T Tlale-Malao (Human Resource Executive) advised that the emphasis was on people, reinforcing the Batho Pele principle. To this effect, learning and growth in the LAB was encouraged, emphasis was placed on legal training, the physical and psychological impact of practitioners was monitored, HIV in the workplace and its impact on the LAB was investigated, incentive schemes and individual development plans were implemented, HR policies and procedures had been updated, recruitment and selection was improvised with the focus on ensuring the attraction and retention of lawyers, the LAB moved from a manual case management system to a navigator linked to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in Labour matters, and an organisational culture was developed by both the LAB and the clients with the development of an LAB Charter and a Client Services Charter, which was approved by the Board. She advised the Committee that in this regard a "People Development Strategy" had been devised.

On the issue of the Superior Courts Bill, Mr Nair requested that further submissions on this issue be made at a later stage.

4) LAB Challenges:
Mr Nair advised that the 3 challenges faced by the LAB were access, delivery and sustainability. On the issue of accessibility, this could be divided into two subcategories, namely, the prison link-up programme and access to rural communities. With regard to the former, the inequitable resourcing across the justice sector was problematic and required the same ratio input. With regard to the latter, rural communities were geographically determined. In order to ensure access and sustainability, one needed to enter into partnerships with community-based organisations.

On the issue of delivery, the sustainability of service providers needed to be considered. Demand has to be met by capacity. The LAB confirmed that it did not at this point believe that it would be able to meet demand or provide the necessary quality of service required. In this regard a number of complaints had been received and although programmes were to be implemented, this would not solve the problem. In order to achieve this, one needed to increase the ratio of practitioners per court. Mr Nair pointed out that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had two prosecutors per court. This served to the disadvantage of public defenders who did not have the necessary time to prepare. On this issue the LAB wanted to consider the use of paralegals. Paralegals would provide a cheaper and more affordable means of service delivery.

Mr Nair advised the Committee as regards the issue of capacity that the main problem experienced was retaining staff. The NPA was offering better salaries, therefore in order to retain staff, the LAB had to be in a position to match such salaries.

Discussion
Mr S Swart (ACDP) enquired about the implications of the two Court decisions (Boeremag Case) as regards the provision of Legal Aid to those with means on the LAB’s budget.

The chairperson stated that this issue needed to be further investigated and requested a report on the cases relevant to this issue in order to reconsider the implications and the possibility of legislative steps.

Mr Nair advised that regular contact on the developments on this issue was necessary in order to monitor the situation.

Mr Solomons queried what structures are to be set up to relieve the situation as regards delivery to rural areas.

Mr Nair advised that satellite offices are to be based in rural areas. However the community needs to note that 89% of LAB matters are criminal; hence the location of such offices would be guided by the nature of the matters.

The chairperson advised that the LAB should have a role to play in respect of the issues of new courts.

Mr Maloyi raised the question of why to date since the issue was first raised in 2003, there were no satellite offices in the North West?

Mr Nair advised that the new offices were invariably linked to rural areas. However the issues of sustainability played a factor in location. Some courts were periodic in nature and accordingly matters in such situations would require outsourcing to be sustainable. Outsourcing, being geographically based, also played a pivotal role in location. Accordingly coverage was linked to criminal coverage. However the location of offices was reviewed and where it was found necessary, such offices were relocated.

The chairperson raised the issue of the 3-strategy approach, in particular the issue of retaining personnel. She advised that the NPA had been faced with the same problem but had implemented a career pathing plan. In this regard she enquired whether the LAB intended to do the same. She further raised her concern on the issue of paralegals, and the impact this may have on the LAB.

Judge Mambo advised that this issue had been vigorously discussed at the last Board meeting. Career pathing had been identified. Linked to this was the idea of capacitating the district courts and then the regional courts etc.

The chairperson pointed out that the Magistrates Commission had produced a discussion document on new appointment procedure guidelines which could be far more valuable assistance on this issue as it affords the LAB as an employer a degree of control over individuals pursuing such appointments.

Ms Camerer enquired when the Department of Justice (DOJ) had received the strategic plan from the LAB.

Mr Nair advised that they had received it in December, but were waiting to hear from the DOJ.

Ms Camerer further enquired about the disparities between the budget amounts projecting to the same date, and hence whether there would be over-expenditure.

Ms Hlabatau advised that as regards the R484 million, this amount had been approved at the beginning of the financial year. As they had received additional funding, the amount therefore changed from that approved. Accordingly, in respect of the R563 million, this was expected to be spent at the end of the year except for the money allocated. Ms. Hlabatau thus confirmed that there would not be overspending.

Ms. Camerer asked what the cause of the problem in the IT system was as pointed out in the Auditor-General’s report.

Ms. Hlabatau said that the system could not quantify the value of the instructions given to attorneys but who had not been paid. This caused errors and erroneous reports and accordingly had been rectified.

Mr L Joubert (DA) asked whether Judicare fell under ‘other expenditure’. He queried (in view of the fact that it constituted half the budget) in relation to expenditure, what the percentage was for High Court matters and the percentage for Lower Court matters. He also asked which rendered a better service, the Justice Centres or Private practitioners. Mr Joubert further wished to know the ratio between criminal and civil matters.

Mr Nair responded that it was more constructive to go the Judicial Centre route. He advised that they were approaching the stage were Judicare was only used for specialised matters or where their own practitioners were unavailable. On the issue of criminal and civil matters, Mr Nair confirmed that 89% of matters were criminal in nature.

The chairperson voiced her concern on the need to find a way or means of assessing options regarding civil matters. She stated that one needed to consider further options. She advised that in light of what had been said and concluded by the LAB, the LAB needed to get a firmer concept of capacity in terms of criminal matters and the criminal courts.

Mr Joubert wished to know how many practitioners the LAB had per court as compared to the NPA.

Mr Nair responded that to a large extent the LAB has only one practitioner per court and is very stretched. This was problematic as there was insufficient time to consult before the matter was heard in court. On average there was one candidate attorney covering two courts with at least three matters on the roll per day.

The Chairperson enquired whether there had ever been a rationalisation of LAB matters on the court roll.

Mr Nair advised that this issue had been pursued vigorously. However some courts would come to a standstill and a stigma may result if LAB matters were rationalised to Legal Aid courts. Mr Nair suggested that the NPA be asked as regards the ratio of private matters versus LAB matters.

Mr Maloy asked who the 6 co-opted partners of the LAB were.

Mr Nair advised that these parties were cited on page 20 of the annual 2005 report (annexure "2").

Mr Maloy further enquired as to the breakdown of employment equity in the LAB.

Mr Nair advised that such a breakdown was cited on page 85 of the annual 2005 report.

Ms Camerer enquired about the actual figures spent on Judicare and civil matters. She said that she was concerned that women and children were not getting the requisite legal aid they needed.

Mr Nair advised that the figures on Judicare could be forwarded to her. However he would be unable to provide such figures in terms of civil matters but could provide her information as regards women and children matters.

Ms. Camerer asked whether the former Deputy President had applied for legal aid.

The Chairperson, referring to the Judicare graph and quality of services received, requested an analysis of the findings and an indication as to where the LAB wished to go based on such findings.

Ms Camerer, referring to page 12 of the LAB’s synopsis, asked how many people were involved in these matters and the measure of success as there was no indication given.

The chairperson requested a report on the children prisoners, for the purposes of assessing where they are in terms of their trial.

Mr Nair advised that a report on this issue had previously been sent to the Committee. This matter had now become incorporated into service delivery and a monthly monitoring programme was in place.

The chairperson requested another report on the seven children currently in the programme.

The chairperson queried Human Capital Management and the prison linkup programme and asked whether there was a problem with accessibility.

Mr Nair advised that accessibility was not a problem, rather the issue of safety. However this had been addressed and measures implemented.

The chairperson further requested a motivation for the LAB’s argument for the use of paralegals.

The meeting was adjourned.

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