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JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 March 2006
COURT SERVICES AND FAMILY ADVOCATES ANNUAL REPORTS & BUDGETS: HEARINGS
Documents handed out
Briefing on Court Services
PowerPoint presentation on Court Services
Presentation by the Office of the Family Advocate
Re aga boswa refinement in KwaZulu-Natal [please email email@example.com]
The Committee was briefed by Court Services on the Budget and annual report. The criminal justice budget had grown significantly from 1995, but growth did not compare favourably with other international justice systems. The growth was lower than that experienced in the social sector environment. Most of the Department’s budget was spent on personnel, which did not help solve the problems of backlogs in courts that the Department was experiencing.
The Legal Aid Board did not have offices in some courts. This was one issue that had been neglected in the past. It was important to meet all needs of court users and this included the Legal Aid Board. The Legal Aid Board would normally have offices around courts following the establishment of the Justice Centres. The idea was that the Board’s personnel should be accommodated in courts only when they were expected to be in court.
Court hours were not relevant when measuring efficiency. The Department was mostly concerned with what was placed on the court roll and what was finalised. In many instances cases were on the outstanding roll because police investigations had not yet been finalised. The fact that the number of outstanding cases was high did not necessarily mean that new courts should be built because the problem could be solved through discussions with the police or putting more people in the investigations.
The Committee was also briefed by the Office of the Family Advocates. The Office did not have a Code of Conduct in place but was in the process of developing one. It had a very heavy workload and spent most of its time on litigation. The principle underlying the functions of the Family Advocate was the best interest of the minor and/or dependent children. Since its inception, the office of the Family Advocate had been dependent on the Department of Social Development to second social workers to be appointed as Family Counsellors. To date only 19 such secondments had been made in respect of 4 provinces.
Issues raised by the Committee included the following:
- Whether case backlogs were related to awaiting trial detainees.
- Whether moneys for judges' vehicles formed part of their salary package.
- Whether having two prosecutors per court could improve efficiency in courts.
- Why the Thohoyandou Community Court had a very high number of withdrawn cases.
- There was a public feeling that the Victim Service Charter did not apply in some case.
- Why the prosecution did not reveal their reasons for withdrawing cases.
Briefing by Court Services
The Court Services branch was represented by Mr S Jiyane (Deputy DG: Court Services), Ms T Ramanyimi (Chief Director: Facilities, Ms M Sejosengwe (Chief Director: Court Performance), Mr A Prinsloo (Manager: Court Nerve Centre), Ms P Moodley (Director: Child Justice and Family Law), Mr P du Rand and Ms T Skhosana (Office Manager: Court Services). Mr JB Skosana (Chief Director: Office of the Director General) also attended the meeting.
Mr Jiyane made the presentation. (See document attached). He said that the criminal justice budget had grown significantly from 1995 but this growth did not compare favourably with other international justice systems. The growth was lower that the growth experienced in the social sector environment. Growth in capacity in the criminal justice system had been uneven. Police personnel rose by 31%. The numbers in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the courts rose by only 18% and 9% respectively. Most of the Department’s budget was spent on personnel and this did not help solve the problems of backlogs in courts that the Department was experiencing.
The Chairperson asked if the backlogs were related to the awaiting trial detainees.
Mr Jiyane replied that they referred to awaiting trial detainees and cases that had not yet been finalised.
The Chairperson asked how cases that had not yet been finalised were related to overcrowding.
Mr Jiyane replied that part of the overcrowding problems was as a result of cases that had not been possible to processed quickly.
The Chairperson said that awaiting trials were cases that were still going through the process and on which judgement had not been issued, and included people whose cases had been finalised but where judgment and sentencing were still awaited. She asked if the presenter had a different description of awaiting trials.
Mr Jiyane replied that the backlog of cases would include people who were in prison but had not yet been sentenced and people who were outside prisons.
The Chairperson said that people who were outside prison would not contribute to the overcrowding of prisons because they were outside.
Mr Jiyane said that Court Services had a budget of R
The Chairperson asked if the allocation for government motor transport and magistrates’ salaries formed part of the Court Services’ budget.
Mr Jiyane replied that the allocation for magistrates’ salaries did not form part of the budget. The Department used the government motor transport allocation to pay for vehicles used at court level and vehicles for judges.
The Chairperson asked if cars for judges were included in their salary packages.
Mr Jiyane replied that cars did not form part of their salary packages. This was one issue that needed discussion as there was a need for a new dispensation for judges. Cars should form part of their salary packages.
The Chairperson remarked that this was a perennial problem. She asked the human resources section of the Department to furnish the Committee with a breakdown of everything that went into the salaries of judges and magistrates, including all benefits even though they may not necessarily have come from the National Revenue Fund. At some stage the Department had paid for alarms and the monitoring of the alarms at the judges’ homes.
Mr Jiyane replied that the Minister had taken a decision that the issue of alarms was no longer the Department’s responsibility now that the government had finalised a policy with regard to the protection of the judiciary. The VIP Protection Unit was looking at the resourcing of this component. The Department was only responsible for maintaining systems that were already in place until the VIP Protection unit had finalised its processes.
The Chairperson stated that it did not matter whether the Department of Justice or some other Department was doing this. The point was that it was happening. The extra benefits that accrued to judges had always remained unknown to the Committee.
Mr Jiyane said that a sizeable portion of the budget went to the building of courts, were none had existed before, so as to facilitate access to justice. Some money was used to improve facilities at the courts. The Department had received an amount of R11 million from the Department of Public Works (DPW) for the day-to-day maintenance of infrastructure.
The Chairperson asked what the deal with the DPW was and whether the Department of Justice would continue to assume the maintenance responsibilities from them.
Mr Jiyane replied that the Department would continue to take over the responsibilities from DPW. The new devolution of functions was expected to begin at the beginning of April 2006 and the funds for the functions had already been transferred to the Department of Justice. The two Departments were in discussions to ensure that DPW would continue to assist in cases where the Department of Justice did not have the required capacity.
The Chairperson said that judges had always complained that courts were sometimes not functioning properly due to maintenance works that were not up to date.
Mr Jiyane said that an amount of R15 million was transferred to the National Prosecuting Authority to enable them to get more accommodation at the Innes Chambers in Johannesburg. A number of major capital works projects were undertaken in the past year but the Department had not yet made significant inroads into the rural areas.
The Chairperson said that the Legal Aid Board had complained that they did not have office accommodation in some courts and were forced to look for office space outside courts. This was one issue that had to be considered when building new courts. The Board had constantly complained that they were not even consulted during the planning process. Accommodating the Board within the court facilities would contribute to court efficiencies. This would eliminate situations where a person would be expected to drive for kilometres to fetch a document that had been left at the office.
Mr Jiyane acknowledged that the Board did not have offices in some courts. This was one issue that had been neglected in the past. It was important to meet all needs of court users, and this included the Legal Aid Board. The Legal Aid Board would normally have offices around courts following the establishment of the Justice Centres. The idea was that the Board’s personnel should be accommodated only when they were expected to be in court and not provided with space within the court environment.
The Chairperson thought that this should be seriously reconsidered. The problem was that there might not be vacant buildings into which the Board could simply move in. In this case the Board would be expected to build a new building. This could amount to a waste of time and resources which could have been eliminated by more efficient planning.
Mr Jiyane replied that he would take the Chairperson’s comments into consideration. The Department was looking at a situation where all justice related services would be located under one roof.
He said that the Department of Justice should be able to match the South African Police Service as it increased the number if its personnel. The Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) had 22 judges and this did not correspond with its workload.
The Chairperson noted that the SCA had 189 civil appeals pending at the end of 2004. The number of pending cases at the beginning of 2005 was 154. She was of the view that the number of pending cases at the end of 2004 should be equal to the number of pending cases at the beginning of 2005. She asked the presenter to check which figure was correct. The presentation gave a breakdown of cases referred to a full court, single judge and other courts but did not indicate how many cases each had finalised. This was not helpful in deciding which court was more efficient.
Mr Jiyane replied that the number of pending cases at the beginning of 205 was not correctly reflected. He proceeded to give a breakdown of outstanding cases across the provinces and performance during the recess periods across provinces.
Mr Prinsloo took over the presentation. He focussed on the Court Nerve Centre. The Court Nerve Centre was established to provide a framework for measuring court performance that would reflect the court system as a system of closely interlinked processes and tasks in the integrated justice system. For this purpose all court managers were required to submit monthly returns to the respective area court managers. In this process District Court Managers, appointed at main seats of court, were responsible for the collection of information from the main seat and the courts linked to the main seat (i.e. branch and periodical courts).
The returns to be collected were collected at three levels:
- the "Monthly Court Return" contained detailed information on court "occupancy" which was captured at a court room level.
- the "Monthly Return" contained workload information on other activities and functions performed in a magistrates office (civil matters, criminal matters and family law related matters) and other court activities (such as estates, lay assessors, appeals and divorces) which were captured at a court house level.
- the "Monthly Establishment Returns" contained information on the establishment (human resource capacity) which was captured at a court responsibility level (a responsibility centre being a main court that managed branch and periodical courts).
The Chairperson got a sense that the information presented by Mr Prinsloo dealt with lower courts only.
Mr Prinsloo agreed with the Chairperson. High Courts were required to provide information but this was only at the level of what the administrative staff did. Judges were not required to provide information relating to their court hours. The Department also received information from the NPA relating to cases placed on the rolls and how the cases were dealt with.
The Chairperson asked if the data only contained information that would be useful to managers. She was of the opinion that the information would be useful to the judiciary as well. The question was why this information was not being shared with the judiciary.
Mr Prinsloo replied that the information was shared with anybody who needed it. The Department looked at the input and the output in order to measure efficiency. The judiciary could use the information when doing their case flow management and looking at their efficiency. One should look at the number of cases placed on the roll, finalised and withdrawn. The ability to clear a lot of cases did not necessarily mean that courts were effective given the withdrawal rate. They might deal with a lot of cases but not in the right way. The question was whether they were doing the right thing and the information was aimed at answering this question. It was the court manager’s role to provide the judiciary with the information. The Department had the closest link with the court manager who in turn had the closest link with the judiciary.
The Chairperson asked if the Department also measured warrants issued against people who did not return to court after having been given bail or released on own recognisance. The withdrawal of cases was a different matter and at times the judiciary had nothing to do with it.
Mr Prinsloo replied that the number of warrants issues was variable at service centres. The Department had not yet calculated the number of warrants that had been returned without being served properly.
The Chairperson said that the National Prosecuting Authority seemed to have an idea. On average the number was about 15 000 nationally, which was a startling number. The issue of gathering statistics in terms of court hours was misconstrued. The statistics were very valuable to the judiciary. The judiciary would be able to monitor themselves once they understood the entire process. They would be able to see if they had unusual periods of appeals and be able to decide on what measures to take to overcome problems.
Mr Prinsloo replied that courts hours were not relevant when measuring efficiency. The Department was mostly concerned with what was placed on the court roll and what was finalised. One could proceed to look at the issue of court hours if the efficiency was less than 100%. This would be done to ensure that the capacity that was placed in the court was used to the fullest extent. One would also have to look into the reasons for the low efficiency. In many instances cases were on the outstanding roll because police investigations had not yet been finalised. The fact that the number of outstanding cases was high did not necessarily mean that new courts should be built because the problem could be solved through discussions with the police or putting more people in the investigations.
The Chairperson said that it would be interesting to investigate if placing two prosecutors per court led to an increase in court hours. The result would then be compared to the situation where there was one prosecutor per court.
Mr Jiyane said that the number of outstanding cases in districts courts had increased over the past years. This was one issue that was not being dealt with properly. The number of guilty and not guilty verdicts had decreased. There was a huge number of withdrawn cases and this was an indication of problems faced at the courts. The number of cases diverted was growing. Some of the problems encountered in the courts were resources and management related.
The Chairperson remarked that withdrawal figures indicated significant difficulties in the system, and asked if the cases had been withdrawn for one or many reasons.
Mr Jiyane replied that the withdrawals were done by the prosecution in terms of powers that they had. In terms of the recent cases prosecutors could not be obliged to disclose their reasons for withdrawing a case. Some withdrawals were related to poor investigations whilst some cases should not even had found their way into the roll. Some cases were placed on the roll when the prosecution was not ready to commence proceedings and this created bottlenecks. Cases struck off the roll included those in which people had paid admission of guilt fines.
The Chairperson could not understand why admissions of guilt were put together with matters that had been struck off the roll. The figures on outstanding rolls in provinces did not indicate what kind of capacity existed in the provinces. This made it difficult to pronounce on the effectiveness of the courts across the provinces. It seemed that the analysis focussed much on how many courts were needed without looking at the capacity and effectiveness of the existing courts. She was not sure if the Department had statistics relating to efficiencies per court, prosecutor and magistrate. It would be helpful to have the statistics before concluding on the number of courts that were required. There might be a need for new courts to deal with the backlog but the issue was where were the courts needed and where would they have a bigger impact. Part of the problem was the ceasing of the Saturday courts and one wondered if the impact this had had was factored into the discussion in a meaningful way. There should be an in-depth analysis of the issue.
Mr Jiyane said that the Department would put more effort to identifying the bottlenecks across the provinces. It would also interrogate how courts were using the available resources. The solution was not merely about throwing money into the courts but also analysing the problems themselves.
Ms Sejosengwe presented on case flow management. Case flow management was overseen by an National Integrated Case Flow Management National Committee in which all partners were represented. The dept had already established at 44 courts where the eScheduler was deployed as an enabling tool. A case flow management planning tool/template had been developed and was being tested in Pinetown and the Cape High Court. The Department was exploiting technology to remove security risks and logistical nightmare associated with the daily transportation of awaiting trial detainees between courts and prisons. This would free time and resources in the system for trial-ready cases. The audio visual case remand system was currently being piloted in Durban, Pinetown & Westville prison in KwaZulu-Natal since October 2005. The Department was targeting only remand cases where no juveniles were involved. A significant number of cases had been processed through the system since implementation/piloting of the system in October 2005. The impact assessment of the system would be conducted after 6 months (May 20006). The excellent court stakeholder cooperation in the pilot projects should be applauded. There was a need to amend the Criminal Procedure Act to provide for the audio visual remand of cases.
The Chairperson asked how the case management helped people, especially those who would come to court only to be told that the case had been withdrawn.
Ms Sejosengwe replied that there should be an early warning system that would ensure that people were timeously informed that their case would not be heard on that day.
The Chairperson was very supportive of case flow management. The problem was with the communication of the decision to the person who was meant to be in court. A person would remain in court until 16:00 only to be told that their maintenance case would not be heard. There should be a place where one could go and verify if the matter was likely to be heard.
Ms S Camerer (DA) complained that the Chairperson was taking too much time engaging with the presenters and that the Committee would not have time to pose questions to the Department. The Chairperson indicated that members would be given an opportunity to pose questions.
Mr Jiyane proceeded to deal with dedicated courts. Commercial, Community and other dedicated courts would be continued with as part of the strategy to ensure that courts focussed on productivity as a measurement of success. The strategy was to deal with these courts as part of the court structure and to ensure that the other courts also received additional attention and resources so that all courts could deliver improved services. Cape Town had been able to divert a lot of cases outside the normal justice system since the inception of community courts. Some provinces were having difficulties in relation to diverting cases because they did not have the necessary systems in place. Judges were very reluctant to divert cases in no proper systems for diversion were in place. He said that the Commercial Crime Courts had been very successful especially when one looked at the conviction rate. Streamline the courts so as not to have courts that were working efficiently and others that were not.
He said that the Department had done a great deal in putting infrastructure in place for the equality courts. There were 657 cases reported so far in our equality courts (from 2003 up to date). Topping the list in terms of the statistics were KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. The provinces that had reported the least number of cases were Free State, Northern Cape and Limpopo. The Mpumalanga province also had some problems and these were indicated by problems in the farming communities. This had been attributed to lack of awareness amongst the members of the public. The Department would vigorously embark on public awareness campaigns aimed at raising awareness. Shortage of court personnel (clerks) was affecting the effective and efficient operation of the equality courts.
Ms Sangqu presented on Operation Isondlo. The Department had embarked on Operation Isondlo, a maintenance service delivery programme. The objectives of the project were:
capacity building at courts; improvement of the child support system and family regeneration and poverty reduction. Some courts did not have the necessary capacity to deal with maintenance cases. The Department would introduce interns in courts to help with the maintenance files. There were lots of negative perceptions of Operation Isondlo.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had received a thorough briefing on the Operation by the Director General.
Ms Moodley presented on child justice. She said that there was a decline in the number of children awaiting trial in January. It would be interesting to know where those children had ended up because this was the period during which a lot of children were arrested. Were they diverted or in detention in police cells? The Department had finalised guidelines for the establishment of one-stop child justice centres. A protocol was being devised on the management of children sentenced to reform schools. A lot of work had been done in relation to caring for children. The Children’s Bill was awaiting signature by the President and would have some impact on the Department. The personnel at children’s courts would have to be trained on the Bill. The Department had some difficulties with some clauses of the Bill and the jurisdiction allocated to the Children's Court. The Department had conveyed its concerns to the Department of Social development and was waiting to see if the concerns had been accommodated.
Mr Jiyane concluded the presentation by saying that the Department was beginning to see a great deal of improvement with respect to case cycle times. Most maintenance cases (65%) were beginning to be resolved within a period of eight months. The maintenance of maintenance officers and clerks had helped a lot. The cycle for maintenance enquiries had been reduced from six to three months.
Ms Camerer said that a vast number of judges would disagree with the statement that the Re Aga Boswa "project seeks to affirm the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution which dictate that the administration of the courts is the preserve of the Minister who exercises such responsibility through the Department".
The Chairperson said that one could not make a definitive statement that most judges would agree with the statement quoted above.
Ms Camerer said that she was in favour of court managers. She asked how many court managers were in place at this point in time. She noted that the narrative document on court services put the number of Constitutional Court judges at 10. There was another female black judge who had been appointed to bring the number to 11. The Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court had a large outstanding roll. At the moment the Division had 18 acting judges in addition to the permanent judge but there was still a huge backlog. She asked if there had bee any thought of extending the number of acting judges in the Court. It seemed that the Department was not sure if it was sufficiently funded. The Committee had been told that there was a review going on in respect of this issue. It would be helpful if the Committee could be given the terms of reference of the review. She wondered what the Mulweli Report was and by when the review would be finished. With regard to data collection, she asked where were the regional offices. Were the provincial offices also the regional offices? She was of the opinion that regional offices had been abolished.
The Chairperson said that regional offices were back.
Mr du Rand replied that the conclusion on whether the Department was sufficiently funded was not drawn by Mr Jiyane but by the Institute for Security Studies.
Mr Skosana replied that the statement should be read in the context of the fact that, with the advent of the new dispensation, the management responsibilities in relation to the budget, building and people that were assigned to the Chief Magistrates and Senior had been withdrawn. The withdrawal of those responsibilities had left a gap. This was one of the reasons for the programme aimed at building and enhancing the capacity of the management. The Court Manager would be responsible for the budget. There were 23 Court Managers in the system and 58 would assume duties on the 1st of April 2006. The interview process had already been completed. An interview process for a further 217 Court Managers would run until the end of May 2006.
Ms Camerer continued to say that the narrative document of Court Services indicated that there were 13 small claims court but the PowerPoint presentation talked about 15 small claims court. She asked what was the correct number. A total of 2 373 cases were removed from the roll in the Thohoyandou community court. This was a very high number. She asked what were the reasons for this. There were complaints about access to Equality courts. It was difficult for disabled people to access some of them. The reason for this might be that some of them were just designated as Equality Courts whilst there were no proper facilities in place. Many women's groups had raised the issue of the Victim Service Charter. She wondered if the Department had anyone who was driving the Charter and if the Department had intervened in anyway in terms of victim's rights. An accusatory finger had been pointed at the Department in connection with the fact that the Charter had not been made applicable to some alleged victims. Finally, she asked when the legal interns would be drafted into the Department.
Mr du Rand replied that the Department did not have all the reasons for the withdrawals. This was something that had to be taken up with the NPA. The Mulweli report was one of the reports that looked at the blockages in the system round about 1996/97. The review that was currently taking place was not necessarily a continuation of that but was looking at the current blockages. There were 15 community courts. Two more courts came into existence since the document was drafted and more courts would soon be established. The Thohoyandou Court was one of the community courts that had experienced some problems. Some of withdrawn cases had been referred to other courts. The court was still new and needed some time to get off the ground.
Ms Sejosengwe replied that the terms of reference included governance issues. The scope covered the legislative framework. It looked at whether the laws were user friendly and if they were law a hindrance and the capacity of the criminal justice system. It also covered case management and how to exploit information technology and information sharing across the justice cluster. The timeframes were 18 months but this might be too ambitious given the magnitude of the work involved.
Mr Jiyane replied that presentation had omitted the recent appointment to the Constitutional Court. In the next financial year, the attention would not be only to the lower courts because they were not the only courts experiencing problems. The High Court in Gauteng had some problems. The Department would engage judges as part of their response in dealing with the problems.
The Chairperson said that statistics were very important to the whole exercise. Statistics would help courts to understand their workloads. She said that she had discussed the matter with the Judge President of the High Court in Gauteng. What was needed was some sense of the workload carried by each of the judges in the division. It did not help to simply point out how many cases were outstanding if there was no information on how many cases each judge was dealing with. The number of case per judge should be compared to what judges in other divisions were doing in order to ascertain what was the problem.
Mr Jiyane said that part of the analysis would involve looking at the issues raised by the Chairperson per court so that the Department could have a basis for intervening when necessary.
Mr L Joubert (DA) said that in statistics there was a norm or an average. There were places that deviated from the norm or average. For instance, if one took the outstanding roll at the High Court the average per judges was four cases and there were cases that substantially deviated from the norm. The Transkei High Court had 20 cases outstanding per judge and the CPD had two cases per judges. The same applied to the guilty and not guilty verdicts. The average for the guilty verdicts was 15% for the country as a whole. He asked if the Department compared the statistics. The typing of court records had been outsourced and there had been complaints that companies contracted to type their records did not pay their staff. This was especially the case in Gauteng. This had the effect of delays in appeals because the proceedings could not go forward without a typed record. He asked if the Department was in control of the contracts and if it ensured that the companies paid their staff.
Mr Prinsloo replied that clearance rate was the ration of the input to the output (the number of cases placed on the roll compared to the number of cases finalised). This gave an indication of whether the court was able to deal with the workload. If the clearance rate was more than 100% one could conclude that the court was able to deal with the outstanding court roll. A clearance rate of less than a 100% indicated that a court was not coping with the workload.
Mr du Rand replied that the Department had a list of all courts in the country and looked at their performance on a monthly basis. It also tried to compare some of the courts. It was important to remember that not all courts could be compared against each other. The location of the courts (urban versus rural areas) and the complexities of the cases made it difficult to compare courts. He hoped that the measuring toll that the Department was developing would give further guidance on how to compare courts. He agreed that the transcription of court records had been outsourced and the Department was looking at revamping the system. High Courts had a digital system and the Department was looking at whether it would be possible to extend it to the whole country.
Imam G Solomon (ANC) said that the Chairperson had asked if it was possible to have the Legal Aid Board accommodated within the court facilities. The spending for capital works was related to additional courts that had been established. He asked if the Legal Aid Board was accommodated in those courts. With regard to data pertaining to efficiency, Mr Prinsloo had posed a very good question when he asked if the Department was looking for the right kind of information. He asked what was the kind of data that the Department was supposed to look at when probing court efficiency. The prosecution was not obliged to disclose the reasons for the withdrawal of cases. He asked why this was the case and whether anything could be done about it. Who would provide the reason for the withdrawal of cases if the NPA did not provide them?
Ms Ramanyimi could not say if the Legal Aid Board had enough facilities in all the courts.
The Chairperson said one could ask the prosecution authority if they had withdrawn the case due to poor police investigations.
Ms C Johnson (ANC) noted that one of the main reasons why the Equality courts were not used optimally was lack public of awareness. The Human Rights Commission had done a study of Equality courts in Gauteng and arrived at a number of reasons for why the courts were not optimally used. The most concerning for the Committee was that some of the presiding officers were not running the courts because they had not been trained in the Equality Act. This was unacceptable. The Department should look at why the courts were not being utilised. The Department had indicated that there might be a risk of review in relation to the audio visual remand of cases. She asked if the Department had assessed the risk. She did not think that there was a real risk.
Ms Sejosengwe replied that there was a pilot project testing for six months. It started in October and would end in April. The assessment of the audio visual case remand system would only take place wants the pilot had completed its cycle.
Ms Ramanyimi replied that there were problems in relation to the accessibility of all courts especially for disabled people. There was a costed audit report conducted by the Department of Public Works. There was no way that the Department could be able to fund the recommendations drawn in the report. An amount of R10 million had been set aside to implement the recommendations and this amount would be increased annually. She agreed that most of the facilities did not meet the required accessibility requirements.
Presentation by the Office of the Family Advocate
Adv P Seabi (Chief Family Advocate), Adv S Ebrahim (Principal Family Advocate: Western Cape), Adv L Sangqu (Principal Family Advocate Free State, Northern Cape and North West), Adv M Khesa (Principal Family Advocate: Limpopo and Mpumalanga), Adv Gajjar (Principal Family Advocate: Gauteng), Adv R Claassen (Principal Family Advocate: Eastern Cape) and Adv M O'Gorman (Principal Family Advocate: KwaZulu-Natal). Adv Seabi (Chief Family Advocate) made the presentation. (See document attached).
The Chairperson said that the work of the Family Advocates had always been a mystery to the Committee. She did not have a sense of how the Office spent most of its time. Was it in relation to every single custody issue that was in dispute or something else? Could mediation assist in settling some of the custody issues? She wondered if there was any need for involving Family Advocates in the mediation process. One might want to investigate the possibility of having non-governmental organisations involved in the initial stages of the mediation. The problem was that in some of the cases the parties were not speaking to each other. It would be helpful to get them on speaking terms before engaging on mediation. One did not have to be an advocate to do mediation. There might also be a need for personal assistants to help with the perusal of documents.
Adv Seabi replied that the appointment of personal assistants was still work in progress. The Office normally received a huge amount of queries from the public relating to a whole range of issues. The assistants could help deal with such issues.
Ms Camerer asked if there were any other ordinary vacancies in the Office. She noted that there were only six Principal Family Advocates instead of nine. It would be a good idea to have counsellors assisting the Advocates. Cape Town seemed to be the divorce capital of South Africa. She was under the impression that the divorce Courts of Johannesburg were the busiest.
Adv Seabi replied that the Family Advocate did not only deal with divorces. Cape Town sat motion courts more often than any other High Court in the country. She reminded members of the anomalous jurisdiction of the former Black Divorce Courts. Cape Town seemed to be carrying a big chunk of the jurisdiction as compared to Johannesburg. With regard to vacancies she sad that the approved establishment gave the Office 27 Family Advocates, nine Principal Family Advocates of which six had been filled and three advertised. Ten posts for family counsellors had been advertised.
Imam Solomon was worried that the Office was not able to focus on its core function because most of its time was spent on litigation in court. He thought that it was important to have a fresh look at the structure of the Office of the Family Advocates and to resource it properly so that it could function properly. The Office was not really playing the role of the Family Advocate.
Adv Seabi agreed that the Office was not performing its real function. It was difficult for 27 people to deal with over 30 000 cases and dedicating over eight hours to each case. The Office had been more reactive in the manner in which it had offered its services.
Mr B Sibanyoni (ANC) said that in the past years the social work profession was one of the most popular professions. This did not seem to be the case anymore. This might explain why only 19 secondments of family counsellors had been made so far.
Adv Seabi relied that the secondments had been inconsistent purely because social development was largely dealt with at provincial level. The Department of Social Development had indicated that courts were not their priority in some areas.
The Chairperson said that the presenter should give the Committee a document that outlined all Acts that referred to the Office. It should categorise and give numbers of all cases that the Office had to deal with. It should also give a sense of how much time was spent in actual court work, preparing court documents and other activities. This would give a sense of what were the statutory requirements of the Office and how it was spending most of its time. She asked if there was a code of conduct governing all Family Advocates.
Adv Seabi replied that the Office had started working on the code in April 2005 but was not making progress due to the heavy workload.
The meeting was adjourned.
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