Budget Vote Speech by the Adv Michael Masutha, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, May 9, 2018, Parliament, Cape Town
Fellow colleagues in the National Executive,
Members of the Judiciary
Fellow South Africans.
I am honoured to present the Vote 21 Budget Policy Statement of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for the 2018/19 financial year.
The budget and the programmes we present today underscore the Government’s commitment to Access to Justice for All and the advancement of the Rule of Law.
This is a proud inheritance from the past generations of pathfinders. The most eminent among these are two former members of this House, President Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, whose centenary birthdays we are celebrating this year.
The programmes that we are about to outline are made possible by a budget allocation of R19, 265 billion for which we are grateful.
That budget allocation includes transfers to five entities which form part of this vote. Of that budget, R1.764 billion goes to Legal Aid South Africa, R310. 6 million to the Office of Public Protector, R357.1 million to the Special Investigating Unit, R178.8 million to the South African Human Rights Commission and R2.216 billion as a Direct Charge to the National Revenue Fund in respect of Magistrates salaries. The 2018/19 budget allocation represents an overall year-on-year increase of 2%.
The Renaissance Project which we announced during the debate of the 2017/18 budget policy statement remains our flagship project. It entails the transformation of the legal system from its colonial and apartheid construct. The infusion of the values of uBuntu and the Africanisation of the legal system, in particular of the language, culture and heritage, lies at the heart of the Renaissance Project. In doing so, we aim to promote and advance social cohesion.
Following the escalation of litigation involving medico-legal claims which exposes the State to huge contingent liability and may have the effect of diminishing the fiscal capacity to deliver sorely needed health and other services, we intend to review the State Liability Act, 1957 in order to provide for periodic payments in respect of the claimants’ future medical expenses. This is a departure from the “once and for all” common law rule which applies in cases of delictual damages. This also seeks to address widespread abuse and corruption in this area.
It has also become necessary to review the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 which, among other things, prescribes the period within which the State can prosecute persons for allegations of particular categories of crime. One of the categories in respect of which we intend to abolish the prescribed period of 20 years is sexual offences, femicide and all forms of gender-based violence. The review will also introduce harsher sentences for these offenses.
Further to combat these heinous crimes, we continue to rollout the dedicated Sexual Offences Courts which now stand at 75. During this financial year, we will establish 14 additional courts in deserving areas to extend their reach. We are mindful of the challenges facing some of these courts and the Deputy Minister will highlight some of the interventions we are putting in place to ensure their optimal functioning.
Another key enabler to delivering justice to all is an efficient and agile State Legal Services which adequately and diligently represents the best interests of the State through effectively managed litigation and other legal services and the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. To achieve this outcome, we will soon present a policy framework document to Cabinet which will outline the establishment of an appropriate institutional model to enhance efficiency in the delivery of the government’s legal services across all spheres of government.
We are making steady progress with respect to the transformation of the legal profession. The National Forum on Legal Practice is working on the full implementation of the Legal Practice Act, 2014. As part of this process and in making regulations for the Legal Practice Council, which will be the governing structure for the legal profession, there must be a 50/50 (equal) representation of men and women on the Council, with a 70/30 Black to White representation. This will see the Council achieving both gender and racial representivity in line with what is envisaged in the Legal Practice Act. I am advised that this governance model was agreed to by the constituent members of the National Forum. This work is due for completion by October 2018.
An important part of access to justice is the provision of legal aid to those who cannot afford the cost of litigation. To this end, Legal Aid South Africa remains an important provider of legal aid and advice. As of the third quarter of the 2017/18 financial year, Legal Aid South Africa took on a total of 307,428 new matters of which 266,583 were criminal and 40,845 civil matters. The organisation rendered legal advice to 226,359 clients, via its call centre, local and satellite offices. These successes were recorded notwithstanding a budget deficit of R45, 3 million which is projected to rise to R92, 8 million during this financial year.
Legal Aid South Africa also launched a “Please Call Me” service through which members of the public send a “Please Call Me” text message and a legal advisor returns the call at no cost to the sender. The institution has also established a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
We are moving steadfastly with the exercise of aligning Magistrates’ Courts and Divisions of the High Courts’ jurisdictional boundaries with municipal and provincial boundaries respectively where this is necessary to enhance access to justice. The rollout to the outstanding provinces of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape is earmarked for completion during this financial year. The implementation of this project has broadened access to justice to communities, most especially the rural areas and territories that formed part of the so-called homelands.
The construction and maintenance of court infrastructure, the human and material resources that are deployed for the effective functioning of the courts, including the IT equipment, constitute what is largely the mandate of the National Executive.
During last year’s budget debate, we undertook to complete the construction of the Mpumalanga seat of the High Court in Mbombela in the just-passed financial year. This was based on projections made by the Independent Development Trust which is the implementation agent under the Ministry of Public Works. The court building is 97% complete but we are experiencing challenges with regard to the construction of the access road. The Directors General of Justice and Public Works are attending to the matter.
We will soon commence with the expansion of the Durban High Court at a cost of R728 million. The project will yield additional four criminal courts, five Civil Courts, five Judges Chambers, five consulting rooms, two Labour Courts, two Labour Court Judges Chambers, an administration block and holding cells to the existing structure.
Since the dawn of democracy and despite the recent budgetary cuts occasioned by austerity measures, we continue to build, on average, two new courts per annum in order to address the huge infrastructure backlog especially in previously Black townships and rural villages. This financial year, we will complete the construction of three Magistrates Courts in Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape, Booysens in Gauteng and Dimbaza in the Eastern Cape.
Madam Speaker, our overall mandate to ensure justice for all and the advancement of the Rule of Law will not only depend on the building of more courts and the employment of additional judicial officers and court personnel. Part of the solution to courts efficiency and enhancement lies in the full utilisation of court time to deal with all cases brought before the courts and, where necessary, the effective and speedy finalisation of urgent cases outside normal court hours.
In this regard, I must mention that the initiative by Chief Justice to establish the National and Provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committees which he and the Heads of Courts convene is yielding positive results.
During this financial year, we will rollout court annexed mediation services to all seats of the Regional Courts and to large Chief Magistrates’ courts country-wide. The Rules Board for Courts of Law is considering rules through which these important services could be extended to the High Court.
Last month, we introduced the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill into Parliament. It aims to define and criminalise conduct amounting to hate crimes and hate speech. Crimes of this nature have over the years polarised our society especially as social media get used as a conduit for the dissemination of offensive messages and images.
The implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) remains one of the important elements for healing victims of apartheid. Following the successful implementation of individual reparations and education assistance to identified victims, the Department will focus on rehabilitation projects in identified communities that suffered gross human rights violations, as recorded by the TRC. We will also continue with the identification and exhumation of remains of victims of judicial and extra judicial killings. During this financial year, the Department will launch at least five rehabilitation projects. We will do this in consultation with stakeholders.
During the last financial year, the NPA made great strides in maintaining high conviction rates in all court forums. It recorded 91.7% conviction rates in the superior courts, 81% in regional courts and 96.1% in the district courts respectively. The convictions also included a 98,5% conviction rate of prosecution in cybercrime cases. This represented the highest conviction rate performance of the last two decades.
For its part, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) in collaboration with the Financial Intelligence Commission and other institutions in the financial regulatory and services sector, continued to play a critical role in the fight against corruption and has delivered significant returns in the past few years. The NPA has successfully championed and participated in the creation of various intervention mechanisms to combat the scourge of Illicit Financial Flows, money laundering and foreign bribery.
During the last financial year, the AFU obtained freezing orders to the value of R3.8 billion and recoveries in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) amounting to R308.3 million.
The Special Investigating Unit continued to play an important role in the investigation of maladministration and corruption within State institutions. During the 2017/18 financial year, the SIU recovered assets to the value of R33.5 million and secured the setting aside of administrative decisions to the value of R797.1 million.
Significant progress has been made to re-establish The Special Tribunal through which civil litigation and ultimate recovery of State losses will be accelerated.
We are moving steadily to establish the administrative capacity of the Information Regulator.
In conclusion let me thank the Chief Justice and other members of the judiciary, Deputy Ministers, the Director General, Heads of Chapter 9 institutions, Heads of Entities and the staff of the Department for their continued support in our quest of make sure that Access to Justice becomes a reality to every South African.
I also convey our gratitude to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for their continued support and guidance.I thank you.