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Address by Michael Masutha, MP (Adv), Minister of Justice and Correctional Services on the occasion of Justice Budget Vote Debate, Tuesday 19 May 2015, National Assembly, Parliament

Madam Speaker
Ministers, and Deputy Ministers
Heads of Courts present and Distinguished Members of the Judiciary
Honourable Members
Members of the National Prosecuting Authority
Heads of Constitutional and statutory bodies
Compatriots and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start by acknowledging and thanking our distinguished guests seated in the gallery who have come to witness this important occasion through which the Executive accounts publicly to this august House for its performance as well as outline its plans for the future.

South Africa’s democracy has come of age having reached 21 years.  This democratic Parliament has enacted progressive laws that established a new legal order and institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector that are enjoined to promote and protect our constitutional democracy.

The National Development Plan postulates radical steps to realise the goals set out in the Vision 2030, of people living in South Africa feeling safe with no fear of crime; children playing and participating actively in community life free of fear, and gender violence being a thing of the past. 

As we mark two decades of our democracy we look back at the journey of a long walk to freedom travelled by our forebears who spared neither strength nor courage in the struggle to liberate our people from oppression.  The Freedom Charter which was to become an embodiment of the democratic Constitution years later, became their compass which kept their dream of a free South Africa alive. Our Constitutional Democracy remains stable with a sound Justice system as one of it many pillars.

The exigency of creating a new legal order that pervades the values of equality, human dignity and Ubuntu cannot be gainsaid.

We also want to ensure that more languages are used in our courts as required by the Constitution and the Use of Official Languages Act. In this regard, we have published a policy that seeks to promote the use of indigenous languages in all our service points. A separate legislative framework is being developed to promote the use of languages in court proceedings. The next steps are in relation to legislative reforms through which we seek to promote the use of indigenous languages in court proceedings or as languages of record.  We will also continue to urge universities to include an indigenous language as part of the LLB curriculum.

Honourable Members
The criminal and civil justice systems define the notion of justice in the life of a nation.  The justice system is weakened if public trust in either or both is lost and this could lead to people taking the law into their own hands.

I am therefore pleased with the performance of the National Prosecuting Authority which continues to improve on its set performance target. During the 2014/2015 financial year, the NPA achieved 91% conviction rate in the High Courts, 76,6% in Regional Courts and 94,2% in the district courts. Conviction rates on sexual offences and complex commercial crimes stood at 69% and 94,3% respectively. A conviction rate of 95% was achieved in respect of cybercrime.

Our efforts to deal with corruption, which threatens to reverse the gains of our freedom, continue to yield positive results.  Working together with the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT), the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), assets to the value of R1,7 billion, were recovered of which R58 million was deposited into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA).

At the level of the Justice Crime Prevention and Security cluster, work to integrate the information management systems through the Integrated Justice System (IJS) Programme is yielding positive spinoffs.

Despite the progress we have made in the various components of the criminal justice system, there are still enormous challenges that need our urgent attention. The 2014 Victims of Crime survey by Statistics SA points to a waning confidence in the justice system.

Some of the interventions that are necessary to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system include overhauling the out-dated Criminal Procedure Act, reforming the bail laws, maximising the use of restorative justice and addressing overcrowding in correctional centres (as part of the integrated justice system).  It has emerged that several of the detainees in some of the correctional centres who cannot afford even the low amounts of bail are arrested for less serious crimes which could be fast tracked outside the formal justice system. It is crucial that the victim becomes the centre of our efforts as government to improve the confidence in the criminal Justice system.

We will soon make an announcement on how we will embark on the review of the entire justice system after I have canvassed the views of colleagues in the JCPS cluster and Cabinet regarding this matter.

The reform of the civil justice system has been on a snail pace as much focus has been on the criminal justice system.  In particular the default judgments dispensation and emolument orders which are prone to abuse by unscrupulous creditors are being reviewed.

The Legal Practice Act provides a framework through which the legal profession must be transformed.  South Africa is one of the countries which, besides having fewer lawyers per capita (one lawyer for every 2000 people), access to legal services is beyond the reach of the ordinary person on the street. It is for that reason that when issues of transformation are raised in the legal circles emphasis is placed on briefing patterns.  Issues such as legal fees and training particularly in scarce skill such as mining law, intellectual property, maritime law and aviation law amongst others, are equally important. I am pleased that a National Forum on the Legal Profession has now been appointed to look at all these issues. The Forum has its job cut out.

We are developing a policy which is aimed at the consolidation of the State Attorney’s offices. This is with a view to turning it into a legal firm of choice for the State and all its institutions.  We hope to finalise this policy in this regard, which will also deal with allocation of legal work which remains a concern to many legal practitioners especially the previously disadvantaged individuals.  

Honourable Members
The department continues to improve the maintenance system to reduce long queues and to ensure that rightful beneficiaries receive their money in time and directly in their bank accounts. More maintenance beneficiaries are using the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) and receive their money directly in their bank accounts. In the financial year 2014/15, a total of R1.97 billion was paid to maintenance beneficiaries through the EFT.

In addition, we have tabled the Maintenance Amendment Bill before Parliament to deal decisively with maintenance defaulters.

We have also enhanced the management of our Guardian’s Fund and improved our service particularly to orphans who are dependent on the proceeds of the Fund for their livelihood. In 2012/13, government made 37 000 payments totalling R1,006 billion to Guardian’s Fund beneficiaries, the majority of whom are children. During 2013/14 this increased to 60 675 beneficiaries being serviced to the amount of R1.130 billion.

Access to justice entails bringing court services closer to the people. To address the situation of people having to travel long distances for justice services, the Department has embarked on a process of realigning magisterial districts with municipal boundaries so that communities can access justice services in areas where they live. The project was successfully implemented in Gauteng and the North West in December 2014 and will be roll out to Limpopo and Mpumalanga later this year.

We are also piloting the court-annexed mediation rules in selected courts in the Gauteng and North West provinces. There is great potential to increase access to justice through the use of mediation, and thereby avoid the exorbitant costs and time delays associated with litigation.

We continue to build courts in the outskirts of the towns and cities as well as in rural villages to expand justice services to previously marginalised communities. We hope to maintain the norm of building on average 2 new courts per year so that we can reduce the backlog of court infrastructure in many parts of the country. During 2015, we will proudly open the doors of the first High Court in Limpopo and a high court in Mpumalanga will follow in 2016.

South Africa is endowed with many natural resources, both biological and otherwise thus making it arguably the richest piece of real estate on earth. Full realisation and benefits of this natural advantage can only be realised through investing in the most valuable of its natural resources. This being its own people through imparting high end skills especially amongst its young and generally in advancing their social and economic wellbeing.

This year we have increased the intake into our Internship Programme to 800, from last year’s 400. In this way we seek to impart skills on young graduants and thereby enhance their opportunities for employment. Where possible these interns are absorbed in permanent and sustainable jobs within the department and government wide. We are also making funds available to recruit paralegals who will render services in various areas where less complex legal competencies are required.

Madam Speaker
We welcome the budget of R16,9 billion allocated to the Department for the 2015/16 financial year which we hope will make a significant impact in our quest to deliver justice to all people in South Africa. Of this budget allocation R5,5  billion is earmarked for the Court Services, R3, 4 billion is for the NPA and R2, 2 billion for the South African Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and Legal Aid South Africa.

As I conclude, let me convey our profound gratitude to the Chairperson and members of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for its continued support and guidance.  A special word of thanks goes to the Chief Justice, distinguished Heads of Court and members of the Judiciary, some of whom have made time to be here to grace this occasion.  Not to forget my Deputy Ministers, the Honourable John Jeffery (MP) and Honourable Thabang Makwetla (MP) for their profound support and comradeship, my colleagues in the JCPS Cluster, Heads and Chairpersons of statutory bodies for their endurance in making sure that justice continues to be dispensed to all our people who increasingly flock to the courts daily.

Last but not least, to the Director-General, Ms Nonkululeko Sindane, Secretary-General for the Office of the Chief Justice Ms Memme Sejosengwe and Mr Z Modise, Acting Commissioner for the Correctional Services and their respective management teams and the entire staff in the justice family for their tireless efforts.

Nakhensa! Ndolivhuwa! NDAA!