ATC080515: Report on Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Bill

Justice and Correctional Services

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development on the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Bill [B 48─2007] (National Assembly – sec 75), dated 15 May 2008:

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, having considered the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Bill [B 48─2007] (National Assembly – sec 75), reports the Bill with amendments [B 48A─2007] as follows:

The Committee welcomes the Bill, which aims to extend jurisdiction in civil matters, including divorce matters, to the Regional Courts. The Committee trusts that this would be done in a manner that retains the sound characteristics of the Divorce Courts, which are acclaimed as being user-friendly, inexpensive and accessible, and that the broader adjudication of civil matters by the Regional Courts would also be underscored by those characteristics.

The Committee noted that the general objectives of the Bill appear to be misunderstood by certain magistrates, most notably from within the ranks of the District Court magistracy, in that the Bill is perceived to be aimed at enhancing the careers of Regional Court Magistrates.  However, the Committee is satisfied that the Bill, once fully implemented, would not only enhance access to justice for all, which is its primary objective, but would also contribute to enhancing competence and career advancement opportunities for the magistracy as a whole.

The Committee expressed its concern regarding the capacity of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to fully implement the Bill. The Department presented a comprehensive implementation plan to the Committee, and the Committee will be seeking to actively monitor the implementation of the Bill and, for that purpose, requires six-monthly reports from the Department on such implementation.

The Committee is further of the view that it would be prudent to adopt an incremental approach to the implementation of the Bill. The provisions of the Bill are carefully crafted in order to enable such an approach, and care should be taken to prevent a situation where the system of the administration of justice is expected to meet unrealistic expectations.

The Committee would like to caution that, whilst the provisions relating to training in civil adjudication are sound in principle, training in itself does not necessarily constitute an adequate mechanism to equip judicial officers to deal with such matters. Sound jurisprudential qualities include a combination of legal education, training, experience and individual aptitude. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that only those magistrates, who are fit and proper persons, in the broader sense, are appointed and/or designated to exercise civil jurisdiction in the Regional Courts.

The Committee effected an amendment to the Bill in order to ensure, firstly, that rules of court are made in order to enable the Regional Courts to exercise their new extended civil jurisdiction effectively and efficiently and, secondly, that those rules retain and build on the characteristics of the current Divorce Court rules, in so far as those Courts are user-friendly, inexpensive and accessible. The new rules must be made within six months of the commencement of the Act and must be submitted to Parliament. The Committee would like to stress that those rules should, as far as possible, result from a consensus-seeking approach by including the relevantroleplayers.

The Committee would like to urge the Department to ensure that courts that are presently under-utilised are made available for the adjudication of civil matters as contemplated in the Bill.

The Committee received representations, through the public hearings on the Bill, about the parlous state of some of the courts in Cape Town and the challenges this will posed in implementing the Bill. The Committee request the Department to pursue this matter further, and will allocate two Portfolio Committee members to follow up on the issues raised.

Report to be considered.


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