Magistrates Conference Report, Committee Reports & Closed Session on Magistrates’ Conduct

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Justice and Correctional Services

14 November 2007
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

14 November 2007

Mr Y Carrim (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Audio recording of meeting

The Department of Justice was to have attended to brief the Committee on the Magistrate’s Conference, but was unable to attend. The Committee briefly considered its draft report on the visit to Pollsmoor prison but would adopt the report once the comments of the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services had been received. The reports on the Legal Aid Board and Department Annual Reports would be finalised in the week. The Committee resolved that the outstanding reports would be approved by Members in draft and sent to stakeholders, so as not to delay proceedings in terms of those reports. They would be finally confirmed at an early session in the new year. The Committee considered complaints against magistrates in a closed session

Report on Magistrates' Conference September 2007
The Chairperson announced that the Department of Justice was to have attended the meeting to inform the Committee of what had transpired at the Magistrates' Conference. Members expressed their concern that there was no appearance by the Department. The Parliamentary Liaison Officer attended to apologise and explain, and it was resolved that the report-back would be scheduled for another day.

Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court Files
The Chairperson noted that, arising from the Annual Report of the Department of Justice, the Committee had decided that a meeting must be facilitated between the Johannesburg Attorneys Association and the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court to discuss the complaints around disappearance of files.

Consideration of Committee Reports
The Chairperson noted that the Committee’s Report on the Annual Report of the Legal Aid Board was being drafted at present. The Committee report on the Department’s briefing would be prepared by Monday.

The Chairperson said that the normal procedure was to give the reports to the opposition Members before the vote. Although the Rules did not provide expressly for opposition parties to note disagreements, this was usually done in the Report. These reports would be dealt with the following Wednesday.

The Chairperson said that the drafts of other reports could not be made available before the next Friday. They would be sent out to Members during the constituency period. He noted that the report on the Commission on Gender Equality would request a further report from the Commission within six months. So as not to delay the report-back period, he suggested that Members should adopt the draft report now, and that the stakeholders be sent the approved draft, noting that although it was a draft, the final report was unlikely to differ substantially. He noted that although it had been agreed that the Rules should make provision for adoption of reports by telephone conferences, they had not yet been changed to allow for this.

Committee Draft Report on the visit to Pollsmoor Correctional Facility
The Chairperson noted a further inconsistency that although two Committees could meet jointly, their reports could not be presented and adopted jointly in Parliament. This meant that the report of this Committee on the visit to Pollsmoor Correctional Service Facility would be tabled separately from that of the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee. The Chairperson had circulated the draft report on the visit to Pollsmoor to Members, but noted that comment had not yet been received from the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee.

The draft report reflected that the Committee appreciated the challenges but considered that 66.8% of inmates being unsentenced detainees was not acceptable. The Committee would be engaging with the Department on the reasons why this was so. The official had explained the approach but the Committees were not convinced that the approach was working. The Committee welcomed the reduction in the number of male children. The Committees were concerned about the number of awaiting trial detainees who were incarcerated because they were unable to afford bail. Where the bail was under R1000 it did not make economic sense to keep them in Pollsmoor. There was also concern about the lack of regular visits from the Legal Aid Board, there was no official from the Board present, and the Board was asked to report on their capacity constraints.

The Committee noted that there should be adequate information on the file in respect of the detainees. It should be feasible for Department of Correctional Services to ask for this information from the Department of Justice. It was noted that magistrates were not visiting the facilities, but that this was apparently covered by the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons. There were structures but it was not clear they were working effectively. Of further concern was the inconsistency that whilst sentenced children were able to take part in education and sport, those awaiting trial could not, because they apparently fell under the Department of Justice. There was a need for places of safety for children released, as they could often not return to their families, or there were no addresses of family members recorded in the files.

The Committee noted all the interventions in relation to overcrowding at Pollsmoor, which were listed, and the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee was also asked to add in further information. The interventions were listed. The DCS Portfolio Committee had been asked to add in further comments. The Committee had asked for a meeting in 2 months, and would convene a meeting of the Cluster.

The Chairperson asked that this report be sent to the management at Pollsmoor.

Imam G Solomon (ANC) noted under recommendation 5.1, that the words “unsentenced offenders” should be substituted with “awaiting trial detainees” or “inmates”.

The Chairperson said that use of the words “correctional services” implied rehabilitation. There should be a change of substance, not just words, in the approach by the Department.

Mr S Swart (ACDP) noted that the problem of awaiting trial detainees had been of concern for a number of years. Section 63Aof the Criminal Procedure Act allowed for release of detainees who were unable to pay bail. The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) had been asked to prioritise release of such inmates by July 2007. It was noted, on page 22 of the DCS Annual Report, that overcrowding could affect the health of the inmates. However, admitting to a risk amounted to admitting to threats to the facilities, and there were political connotations attached. He suggested that the DCS be reminded of their obligations.

The Chairperson suggested that reference to this be included in the draft report, and Mr Swart agreed to draft the necessary changes.

Adv L Joubert (DA) noted that the word “offenders” elsewhere should be replaced with “detainees”.

The Chairperson asked that Members should e-mail changes through to him. The report would be considered for adoption in the next week.

The open portion of the meeting was adjourned.

[PMG note: PMG was unable to attend the remainder of the meeting, which dealt with
Reports on Magistrates IX Masimini, MF Mathe, TVD Matyolo, Ms Makamu, MK Chauke and M Matereke, as it was declared closed to the public].



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