Justice Budget: hearing

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Justice and Correctional Services

21 February 1999
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Meeting report

JOINT MEETING OF JUSTICE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE AND SECURITY & JUSTICE SELECT COMMITTEE
22 February 1999
JUSTICE BUDGET: HEARING

Documents handed out:

Deputy Minister's briefing to the Justice Portfolio Committee
Department of Justice Legislative Programme for 1999
Position of Acts as of 17-02-99 (progress of implementation on Acts passed since 1996)
Statues Administered by the Department of Justice (catalogue of Bills passed since 1994)
Review of South African Law Commission

MINUTES
Mr Moosa (co-chairperson, NCOP) said the Select Committee had decided to have extensive joint meetings with the Justice Portfolio Committee. He was hopeful that the National Director of Public Prosecutions would be present on Monday, 1st March. Judge Heath would be giving evidence later with regard to the Heath Commission and the Legal Aid Board was also expected to send a speaker. According to Mr Moosa, the NCOP deals with provincial issues and the National Assembly bears a greater responsibility in this portfolio than the NCOP. On 4th March the budget debate would take place as well as the criminal justice debate vote between the Departments of Justice, Safety and Security and Correctional Services. He was also hoping that the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Department of Safety and Security, the provinces and MEC's will participate in the budget hearing on 1st March.

The Deputy Minister of the Department of Justice, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, read her prepared statement.

The Minister, Mr Omar, expressed his appreciation of the two chairpersons and their parliamentary committees. He said both committees are a source of strength for the Department. The Minister noted Advocate Jasper Noeth's absence as Director-General. He said the relationship between the Director-General and himself was always relaxed and open. The Minister continued by saying that he has a Department whose management has undergone successful transformation. No one was asked to leave but they adopted a policy to ensure that the Department was more representative. In terms of race, this has been successful, but not with gender. The Minister assured the audience that special attention would be given to this issue over the next two years.

The Minister said he would cover random areas. He made the following points:
1) The functioning of the Courts would receive major focus
2) Not much transformation had occurred in the area of Administration of Estates as issues have had to be prioritised. Now, however, it would get more attention
3) He is heading an inter-ministerial committee on developing an anti-corruption campaign.
4) The legislative programme to ensure effective transformation has been completed. He said the major focus for 1999 in the Department is the implementation of the new legislation.
5) In all the work done by the Department, issues with regard to females, children and victims and those with no access to justice would be integrated and would loom large.
6) The process of strengthening the Department itself has to be completed. The effective functioning the Courts is the top priority; therefore there would be draft legislation to give effect to the rationalisation of the Courts, particularly the High Courts. There would be a wide process of consultation resulting in draft legislation which would make provision for a High Court in every province. The input received made it clear that if the provinces are to be strengthened in their functions, they must have their own High Courts (for example, he did not want the situation where one province sets a precedent which other provinces then must follow because if the validity of a rule of one Court is tested by another, there could be unnecessary difficulties.) There will, however, have to be a transition period. Legislation will provide that Johannesburg Division will be on its own with two courts in Gauteng and one court in Johannesburg. The Department has recognised this as an urgent need. The seat of the High Court for Mpumalanga still needs to be sorted out. The Department had suggested the seat be in the capital, but the provincial government did not agree. In the Eastern Cape the seat of the Court would be Bisho, unless it requested otherwise. The Eastern Cape provincial government has indicated that they favour the seat remaining in Grahamstown.

The Minister said the Heath Commission had looked at the composition of the Bench and that this would receive special attention so that the Courts could deal effectively and speedily with the matters before them. He said that a computerised case management system has been implemented in the Cape so that the Judge-President and the Registrar have greater control over cases. The Minister also favours the notion of judicial education. He said that all members of the judiciary must participate in continuing judicial education. The Minister would facilitate this scheme, but it was not the Department's place to decide the content of the judicial education.

With regard to Magistrate Courts, the Minister said that the cluster system has begun to work. There are fourteen clusters which the Magistrates Commission has approved, but a great deal still needs to be done. Donors from Finland have assisted the cluster system financially and with training related to the system. The European Union has also made funding and technical education available.

Civil cases should not be neglected, though. There are no regional courts for civil matters, but the Department is embarking on a programme to address this issue and support from the European Union will help with training for this litigation. In the Cape provincial division, the Judge-President and judges play a more active role. Other methods, for example mediation, should be implemented in the civil justice process to see if civil disputes can be solved before the trial stage.

The Minister went on to talk about the Pre-trial Services Project, which has been successful in Mitchells Plain. The programme could not be extended beyond Mitchells Plain due to lack of funding. The project has led to a better evaluation system of the cases before the Courts, for example electronic photos of the accused on the case forms so that the magistrate knows that he has the proper accused before him. The magistrates make use of systems other than bail and have reduced awaiting trail prisoners considerably. Mitchells Plain also has direct link with the centre and then authorities are able to check whether the accused has a record or not.

Legislation, making provision for people to be tried at courts attached to prisons, is being considered. These would not be secret courts, but would help to facilitate matters.

Regarding more general matters, the Department has a programme for upgrading court buildings and facilities, for example Transkei has nineteen courts and upgrading is nearly complete there.

Video conferences are up for consideration, but there is no legislation providing for it yet. The Irish government is funding the Info-desk Project, aimed at having an information desk at all courts. Skilled people would have to man those desks.

Concerning family courts, the Black Divorce Court Act has been amended and the racial bar has been removed.

The administration of estates has been handled on a racial basis; the system needs to change. The Minister would like to see effective and speedy procedure especially with regard to deceased estates.

There will be a major conference at the end of March concerning corruption, which will include private and public sectors. The conference is to discuss mechanisms which will expose corruption and will create a culture where it is no longer tolerated. The Minister also hoped that more money would be made available to the Public Protector so that every province may have one to curb maladministration. In October 1999, there will be a Transparency International Conference on corruption held in Durban.

Focussing on the Justice Department, the Minister said that the Department is representative, but it needs greater skills to ensure service to the other structures which it administers , for example courts, sheriff's board, etc. Much needs to be done to improve and strengthen the capacity of the Department.

Questions by the committee members
Q: With regard to prosecutors and their remuneration, what is the Department's position now?
A: The Minister replied that if a system is created where prosecutors can be promoted, then the problem could be solved. However, prosecutors tend to stay at the same level for too long. The overtime system had to go because it could easily be abused. The Department has been meeting with the unions and they are working on a formula for a permanent solution to the remuneration problem. This would be discussed further on the next day, 23 February.

Q: What criteria is envisaged for Affirmative Action?
A: Courts must be made representative in terms of race, but Affirmative Action is intended to achieve a final goal where race falls into the background and only merit is considered. Gender representation is also important.

Q: (Ms Jana, ANC) A co-ordinated plan was needed between Departments. She wanted to know if there was a plan for implementation.
A: Yes, there are implementation plans; it is a big issue and a process.

Q: One of the members was concerned about the disparaging consequences of the Maintenance Bill and whether there would be any training for implementation of it.
A: (Deputy Minister) Training for the implementation of the new Act started before it was in place. Now training would have to be accelerated and decentralised.

Q: (Mr Cassim) Was it possible to create a position for professional assistants to judges?
A: The Minister said there was no funding for such a position. What was needed was to implement a better case management plan and that once a system worked properly, then the view that lots of prosecutors were needed may change. Better planning and allocation of work was needed.

Q: Would the Supreme Court of Appeal move from Bloemfontein to Jo'burg
A: No, but the Department needs to make provision for appeals emanating from the Gauteng area. Bloemfontein would not be interfered with.

Mr Cassim suggested that the Department of Arts and Culture be involved in making courts more colourful and interesting. The Minister replied that it was a good idea and they have already received support in this regard from NGOs, technikons, etc. specifically for one children's court. To brighten up our courtrooms would also attract tourists, for example the Atlantis Court that opened on 20th February this year.

The Minister said there has been a slight decrease in the Justice Budget which will cause problems. Therefore there was a need to re-prioritise issues so that there was sufficient money to cover all pressing issues. He added that over the next year there will be a need to have a close examination of the criminal justice system.

Mr Cassim asked whether support from Parliament would ensure that the Department would be adequately resourced for those special programmes for which the Department does not have enough money. In response the Minister said the funding problem could be addressed with better management of the money and not necessarily with extra funding from the fiscus. Rather work with what we have, instead of just pouring more money into projects (which the country cannott afford). If there is effective case management, there will be saving of money. The administration of the Department is decentralised, so there is a regional office in each province to ensure coordination at the provincial level.

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