20 May 2022 - NW1144
Horn, Mr W to ask the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services
With reference to his written reply to oral question 52 on 7 March 2022 regarding the Framework on the Management of Case Backlogs and Priority Matters to deal with the growing backlogs in the Republic’s criminal courts, which he claims are in the final stages of development, what (a) has he found to be the reasons that this framework has not been finalised up to now, given that he made the announcement regarding the development of the framework and/or protocol to address the backlogs in the Republic’s criminal courts for the first time as far back as June 2020, (b) progress has been made in the development of the Framework and (c) is the target date for implementation?
a) Work on the drafting of the Framework began in June 2020. Work on the draft was delayed as increasing Covid-19 infections and stringent Covid-19 Regulations required that immediate action and interventions be embarked upon wherever possible to mitigate against their impact on court operations and court efficiency.
The Directions issued by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services contained some of the interventions such as, e.g. the keeping of Priority Rolls; Court staffing arrangements etc, whilst the Court Optimisation Committee, an intervention led by the Deputy Minister, sought to address challenges and bottlenecks being experienced at the court level by bringing together justice stakeholders and members of the judiciary.
As the rate of Covid infections dropped and the Alert Levels changed accordingly with less stringent Regulations, work could resume on bringing about a more permanent and long-term solution to the long-standing issue of criminal case backlogs.
It should be highlighted that addressing the causes of criminal case backlogs requires the buy-in of all stakeholder departments. For this purpose, extensive consultations were conducted, including workshops. Both external stakeholders as well as internal stakeholders had to be consulted in the drafting and finalising of the Framework, before it could be submitted to the Minister. Consultations began in early July 2021 and continued until November 2021. The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster was also consulted on various occasions through the Development Committee (Sub-Committee of the JCPS Director-Generals’ Cluster). Several versions were submitted for guidance until the final draft Framework was submitted to the Minister on 22 March 2022.
The Framework provides for the establishment of a National Steering Committee comprised of senior officials of all stakeholder departments and entities, viz. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Department of Correctional Services, the Department of Health, the National Prosecuting Authority, Department for Social Development, Legal Aid South Africa, the South African Police Service, and so forth. The National Steering Committee would also need to include representatives of the Judicial Accountability Committee (Magistrates).
The initial responsibility of the National Steering Committee will be to finalise, through various consultations, Memoranda of Understanding between the stakeholder departments and entities outlining each respective department or entity’s responsibility and commitment to perform their individual line functions that they are required to do within their respective mandates, so as to contribute to the reduction of criminal case backlogs.
Each stakeholder department or entity will, in turn, be finalising Annual Performance Indicators within their areas of responsibility, each of which will feed into an overall JCPS Indicator with the desired outcome being reduced criminal case backlogs.
These tools seek to ensure on-going monitoring of performance and the progress being made in reducing the criminal case backlogs consistently and progressively.
Already existing regional and district structures will deal with challenges at local, district and regional level with matters that cannot be resolved at these levels being escalated to the National Steering Committee.
b) The draft Framework will be finalised after the inputs from the Lower Courts Judiciary have been obtained. It must be stressed that these consultations must still take place. Court performance and court efficiency fall within the purview of the judiciary. The Department plans to begin the implementation of the Framework with the convening of the National Steering Committee after consultations with the Lower Courts judiciary have taken place and their inputs have been incorporated.
The Framework aims to provide for a long-term mechanism to address criminal case backlogs. However, the Department has developed an Action Plan to be implemented immediately to address challenges which have a negative impact on the courts and which fall within the Department’s responsibility.
The Action Plan includes interventions such as, amongst others, -
- Priority Courts identified in terms of highest backlogs and the development of priority rolls;
- Continuous Rolls - Matters involving multiple accused to be placed on continuous roll for trials;
- Backlog Courts established where feasible;
- Client-Liaison Meetings with service providers e.g. CRT service providers
- Additional Human Resources;
- Psycho-social support for court officials to improve on the rate of absenteeism;
- Repairs and Maintenance (IT) - Regional Heads and ISM meet with service provider every Wednesday to track progress;
- Additional Equipment Procured (IT);
- Facilities interventions such as procurement of portable battery packs and generators, facilitation of the carrying out of minor maintenance works and procurement of mobile units to be used as court rooms and testifying rooms; and
- Security measures for the courts.