Con­ver­sa­tions with lead­ers

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Deputy Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional Devel­op­ment John Jef­fery talks about ex­pand­ing cit­i­zens’ ac­cess to the jus­tice sys­tem

Deputy Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional Devel­op­ment John Jef­fery ex­plains the multi-pronged ef­fort the depart­ment is mak­ing

to ex­pand cit­i­zens' ac­cess to the jus­tice sys­tem.

Deputy Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional Devel­op­ment John Jef­fery says the thing he loves most about his job is be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple's lives through jus­tice.

“Jus­tice re­ally is the key that un­locks all the other rights in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Of­ten peo­ple don't know their rights or they don't know how to en­force their rights – that's where jus­tice plays a piv­otal role.”

Deputy Min­is­ter Jef­fery, who holds two law de­grees and is an ad­mit­ted at­tor­ney, adds that some of the things that his depart­ment has done in­cludes build­ing a new high court in Lim­popo and ren­o­vat­ing and re­fur­bish­ing other courts around the coun­try to en­sure every­one has ac­cess to jus­tice.

Small Claims make a dif­fer­ence

The cre­ation and roll­out of Small Claims Courts across the coun­try has been one of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional Devel­op­ment's flag­ship projects. It has achieved nearly 100 per cent cov­er­age coun­try­wide, which means that there is a func­tion­ing Small Claims Court in ev­ery mag­is­te­rial district in South Africa.

“These courts help peo­ple to ac­cess the jus­tice sys­tem with­out the need of a lawyer and the ser­vice is ren­dered free of charge.”

The aim of the Small Claims Court is to make jus­tice in­ex­pen­sive and ac­ces­si­ble to those who can­not af­ford court fees.The max­i­mum claim that can be brought to the court is R15 000. Use of these courts has in­creased.

“We also run var­i­ous aware­ness pro­grammes and

com­mu­nity out­reach events to alert com­mu­ni­ties of their le­gal rights and how to ac­cess jus­tice ser­vices.”

Deputy Min­is­ter Jef­fery said his depart­ment also runs var­i­ous pro­grammes that cre­ate con­sti­tu­tional aware­ness and hu­man rights.

He said the depart­ment's Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion (PEC) sec­tion is re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and li­ai­son ser­vices.

The PEC de­vel­ops and up­dates com­pre­hen­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, both na­tion­ally and provin­cially, for con­tin­u­ous pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns. Work­ing with the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem, the depart­ment's var­i­ous re­gional of­fices and other role play­ers such as the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA), the South African Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion and Le­gal Aid South Africa en­sure that com­mu­ni­ties know their rights and know how to ac­cess and en­force them.

Re­duc­ing back­log of cases

Deputy Min­is­ter Jef­fery said var­i­ous fac­tors con­trib­ute to the back­log of cases. Causes in­clude the nonat­ten­dance of court pro­ceed­ings by the ac­cused and wit­nesses. He ex­plained that, on av­er­age, courts is­sue about 15 000 war­rants of ar­rest a month due to nonat­ten­dance.

Other fac­tors in­clude in­com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tions caus­ing un­nec­es­sary de­lays and foren­sic anal­y­sis tak­ing a long time.

“Not enough court ca­pac­ity to deal with all the in­com­ing cases and lack of suf­fi­cient num­bers of judges, mag­is­trates, pros­e­cu­tors and le­gal aid rep­re­sen­ta­tives along with the avail­abil­ity of le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion on trial dates re­mains a chal­lenge.”

Ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity was cre­ated to deal with the work­load at court level, the deputy min­is­ter said. “This is done as part of a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to ra­tio­nalise the courts and im­prove their ef­fi­ciency.”

He also said the Of­fice of the Chief Jus­tice now con­trols case-flow man­age­ment at na­tional and pro­vin­cial level.

“The ju­di­ciary has em­barked on im­prov­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the courts through ju­di­cial lead­er­ship in case-flow man­age­ment and the devel­op­ment of norms and stan­dards for courts that have been gazetted and ap­ply to all ju­di­cial of­fi­cers.”

The Chief Jus­tice has es­tab­lished a na­tional and nine pro­vin­cial ef­fi­ciency en­hance­ment com­mit­tees, which in­clude all crim­i­nal jus­tice stake­hold­ers, to help over­see court per­for­mance.

“We have cre­ated more mag­is­trate and court ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­port posts in the past few years and also ac­cel­er­ated the fill­ing of va­cant mag­is­trates' posts.

“We have also, in con­junc­tion with the Mag­is­trate's Com­mis­sion, em­barked on im­prov­ing the pro­cesses re­lat­ing to the fill­ing of va­can­cies from the ad­ver­tise­ment stage and in­ter­views to ap­point­ment.The cre­ation and fill­ing of re­gional court mag­is­trates' posts is fur­ther be­ing pri­ori­tised.”

In ad­di­tion to the nor­mal per­ma­nent court ca­pac­ity, the depart­ment has also cre­ated ad­di­tional back­log courts staffed by con­tract mag­is­trates, pros­e­cu­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tive staff and le­gal aid rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

To deal with large num­bers of out­stand­ing cases that had ex­isted for long pe­ri­ods of time, re­sources were al­lo­cated to cen­tres where a spe­cific need had been iden­ti­fied.

“This has been very suc­cess­ful in ad­dress­ing and sta­bil­is­ing the back­log sit­u­a­tion at many courts.At present we have 48 ad­di­tional back­log courts that are pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity to deal with the work­load.

“They com­prise of 26 re­gional and 22 district back­log courts that are op­er­a­tional. In or­der to sus­tain this ini­tia­tive we have, as part of our strate­gic ap­proach, aimed to con­vert these back­log courts into per­ma­nent courts where re­quired.”

He said in this re­gard 40 re­gional back­log courts

have been ap­proved for con­ver­sion to per­ma­nent courts and 32 courts have al­ready been con­verted, with others be­ing con­sid­ered.

Other mea­sures that have been put in place to help deal with case back­logs in­clude the use of Al­ter­na­tive Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion Mech­a­nisms (ADRM).

“The use of ADRM by the NPA to fi­nalise cases has en­sured fewer cases need to be dealt with at tri­als. The use has also in­creased ow­ing to more ac­cused suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing di­ver­sion pro­grammes – both chil­dren and adults – and more suit­able cases be­ing iden­ti­fied for in­for­mal me­di­a­tion.”

Deputy Min­is­ter Jef­fery said that Le­gal Aid SA does not have suf­fi­cient staff ca­pac­ity to pro­vide a prac­ti­tioner to cover ev­ery court on a daily ba­sis.

“Based on the de­mand gen­er­ated at each court room, they have now aligned their sup­ply of prac­ti­tion­ers to the needs of each court room. In this way it is en­sured that we are able to utilise le­gal aid prac­ti­tion­ers more op­ti­mally, whilst at the same time re­spond­ing bet­ter to the de­mands for le­gal aid ser­vices at court level.”

In ad­di­tion, dur­ing the sec­ond half of the last fi­nan­cial year, the Board of Le­gal Aid SA ap­proved the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a lim­ited court re­lief pro­gramme at 33 jus­tice cen­tres to en­sure re­lief when prac­ti­tion­ers were not avail­able.

Tack­ling hate crimes and hate speech

Min­is­ter Jef­fery said the Preven­tion and Com­bat­ing of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is con­tro­ver­sial.

“A hate crime bill has been in the pipe­line for some time. What the bill does is take ex­ist­ing crimes and el­e­vate them to make them more se­ri­ous, as hate crimes. The ex­am­ple I like to use is that if you cur­rently throw a brick at a mosque it will be ma­li­cious in­jury to prop­erty.

“But if it can be proved that you threw the brick at the mosque be­cause you don't like Mus­lims then it can be taken more se­ri­ous and can be seen as a hate crime. We have been work­ing on this from some time.”

He said the hate speech el­e­ment came through af­ter the start of racist and of­fen­sive post­ings on so­cial me­dia.

“The bill has an ex­emp­tion for art and ex­pres­sion, as long as it's not in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence.You can be a co­me­dian but if you, for ex­am­ple, start incit­ing at­tacks on a spe­cific group of peo­ple then it could be viewed as hate speech.”

Deputy Min­is­ter Jef­fery said when im­ple­ment­ing the law it will re­quire in­form­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic about its pro­vi­sions.

“It's a crim­i­nal act so it will be up to the po­lice and the pros­e­cu­tion au­thor­ity to im­ple­ment it.”

“At present we have 48 ad­di­tional back­log courts that are pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity to deal with the

work­load”

Writer: No­luthando Motswai

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