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MICHAEL MA­SUTHA Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices

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Jus­tice and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha sur­vived Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s two Cab­i­net reshuf­fles. This past year he has once again kept his head down and mostly out of the news.

There was not much he could do about his biggest headache — the paral­y­sis at the top of the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity — ex­cept to al­low the courts and the pres­i­dent to get on with things, which took most of 2018. The pres­i­dent has re­cently ap­pointed a new na­tional di­rec­tor of pub­lic prose­cu­tions (NDPP), Shamila Ba­tohi, a choice that has been widely wel­comed. Ramaphosa has also set up an in­quiry un­der the NPA Act to look into the fit­ness for of­fice of one of the four deputy NDPPS, Nomg­cobo Jiba, and spe­cial di­rec­tor Lawrence Mr­webi.

Still, the paral­y­sis has been a big prob­lem — and the spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure of the Estina dairy case, although seem­ingly more of a po­lice fail­ure than an NPA fail­ure, hasn’t helped.

The NPA’S over­all pros­e­cu­tion statis­tics have im­proved, with more cases pros­e­cuted and more con­vic­tions than last year. Ma­sutha said in May that the con­vic­tion rate is the high­est it has ever been — 91.7% in the su­pe­rior courts, 81% in the re­gional courts and 96.1% in the dis­trict courts. But a note of cau­tion: a 96% con­vic­tion rate is ex­tremely high and could also mean that prose­cu­tors are se­lect­ing the cases they can win eas­ily and are not pros­e­cut­ing the dif­fi­cult ones. A suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily mean a con­vic­tion; it means a just out­come, which is some­times an ac­quit­tal.

Per­haps one of Ma­sutha’s biggest achieve­ments this year was the com­ing into ef­fect of the Le­gal Prac­tice Act, which has been years in the mak­ing and al­ters the reg­u­la­tion of the at­tor­neys’ and ad­vo­cates’ pro­fes­sion. The new Le­gal Prac­tice Coun­cil be­gan its work in Novem­ber. Lawyers were mostly happy with its mem­bers, but it is too early to tell how it is do­ing.

Le­gal Aid South Africa is also, as usual, do­ing great. But the high court in Mpumalanga, now three years be­hind sched­ule, is still not quite done.

A suc­cess is the roll-out of spe­cialised sex­ual of­fences courts, which are known to make a dif­fer­ence in se­cur­ing con­vic­tions in sex­ual of­fences cases. Last year Ma­sutha said there were 30 across the coun­try, which in­creased to 75. At the start of the fi­nan­cial year, Ma­sutha said there would be a fur­ther 14 des­ig­nated this year and these are on track, says the depart­ment. But two jus­tice sources agreed that des­ig­nat­ing a court a sex­ual of­fences court was just the start be­cause the real test of suc­cess is whether the courts are work­ing as they should. This is less clear. The jus­tice depart­ment said that sex­ual of­fences courts re­quire “in­ter­sec­toral re­source con­tri­bu­tions” but that an icrease in the convi­tion rate for sex­ual of­fences showed that the sys­tem is work­ing.

Ma­sutha’s record on cor­rec­tional ser­vices is not great. Last year, the depart­ment got its first un­qual­i­fied au­dit, but this year it re­verted to type with a qual­i­fied au­dit. Ac­cord­ing to the an­nual re­port, the fi­nan­cial state­ments were qual­i­fied be­cause the depart­ment did not “main­tain ac­cu­rate and com­plete records of the con­trac­tual in­for­ma­tion used to de­ter­mine com­mit­ments”.

On the pos­i­tive side, some se­nior ap­point­ments were made — some­thing Ma­sutha had com­mit­ted to in 2017. But the depart­ment has failed to re­duce the ter­ri­ble over­crowd­ing in pris­ons, in par­tic­u­lar the num­ber of await­ing trial or re­mand de­tainees. A com­par­i­son of the num­bers of re­mand de­tainees from the two most re­cent an­nual re­ports shows that the num­ber has in­creased — both in real num­bers and as a per­cent­age of over­all prison num­bers, al­beit only by 1%.

In last year’s bud­get speech vote, Ma­sutha recog­nised that the depart­ment was top-heavy and un­der­took to stream­line the head of­fice of cor­rec­tional ser­vices and cut its staff by 30%. The depart­ment did not re­spond to ques­tions but a source said this has not hap­pened.

Ma­sutha gets a C- for Jus­tice and a D for Cor­rec­tions over­all a D+

Head down: Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Michael Ma­sutha, who has had some hits and misses over the past year, has kept him­self out of the spot­light. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

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