Media Statement: Budget Vote for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
18 May 2017
The task of building a stronger and inclusive democracy requires that we relentlessly continue to pursue the accessibility of the justice system. Our transition to a non-racist, non-sexist and inclusive South Africa necessitated that steps be taken to urgently transform the justice system and make it accessible to all.
Today, the reality is that even though significant strides have been made in ensuring access to justice for all, we all know that much more can be done to ensure a transformed justice system that serves all our people.
Public safety is of supreme importance and it requires that all sectors in society must play their role, especially in the protection of vulnerable groups. The shocking deaths of Karabo Mokoena and Courtney Pieters in recent days prove that women and children continue to bear the brunt of abuse, violence and senseless killings. On behalf of the Department, I would like to take this opportunity to express our condolences to their loved ones. We hope that the entire criminal justice family will work tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to book.
We are impelled by such gross acts of injustice to build a justice system that is focused on victims. On Monday, we officially launched the 59th new model Sexual offences court in Thembalethu Magistrate’s Court, George. These homegrown new-model Sexual Offences Courts were introduced by the Department in August 2013 to provide specialized support services to victims of sexual offences, decrease turnaround times for finalization of sexual offences cases and improve conviction rates. In this financial year, the Department will commence with phase two of this project, which entails the establishment of 106 sexual offences courts over a period of 10 years.
This year, the Department has adopted the theme: “Towards a Transformed and Accessible Justice System for all” as an embodiment of the objectives we are striving to realise. Despite the fiscal constraints our country is facing, we should be able to deliver on our broad mandate with the allocated budget totalling R18,927 billion.
As one of the pillars of our newly introduced Renaissance project, Cabinet, in March this year, approved a comprehensive framework for the development of an Integrated Criminal Justice Strategy (ICJS) through which all departments and entities in the criminal justice value chain will integrate their efforts in to address weaknesses across the entire system. The envisaged strategy, when implemented, will go a long way towards addressing challenges relating to the management of bail, overcrowding in correctional centres and the optimal use of alternative non-custodial sentences, which will assist in alleviating the pressure being experienced by various departments and entities in the JCPS cluster.
Together with colleagues in the cluster, the Department is on course to implement the integrated Justice System (IJS). The IJS will allow for the establishment of a unique Single Person Identifier and Person Identification Verification application (PIVA) to assist with the tracking of an individual in the CJS through biometrics. This system will ensure electronic information exchanges between SAPS, NPA and DOJ&CD. These integrations are connecting 1150 police stations linked to 509 courts across all 9 provinces.
Government’s fight against crime and corruption remains a key priority. The Asset Forfeiture Unit continues to be a critical part of the State’s arsenal against this scourge. By end of March 2017, the AFU recorded recoveries in the amount of R685 million in respect of corruption cases involving R5 million or more. Similarly, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) continues to play a critical role in government’s commitment to fighting corruption. For the 2016/17 financial year, the President approved 8 proclamations and the SIU submitted 5 reports on completed investigations to the President. By end of December 2016, the SIU had recovered R126 million. The SIU has commenced with the process to reactivate the Special Tribunal as provided for in the SIU Act to expedite the finalisation of civil matters.
The relationship between the JCPS Cluster and the Financial Cluster is critical in the combatting money laundering, illicit financial flows and terror financing. The Financial Intelligence Centre Act significantly made provision for a counter-money laundering advisory council to be constituted by the heads of entities and directors-general from both clusters. A concerning feature is that the FICA Amendment Act does away with this all important advisory council. It is crucial that any regulations accompanying the amendment act reinstitute provision of the Council. The Council would serve as an oversight accountability structure in relation to the functioning of the Financial Intelligence Centre and would advise government on its endevaours in the fight against money laundering, illicit financial flows and terror financing.
As at 31 December 2016, the NPA maintained good conviction rates in all court platforms, recording 91% in the High Courts, 80% in Regional Courts and 95% in District Courts. I have received a letter from Mr Mmusi Maimane of the DA calling upon me to put pressure on the NPA to make a prosecutorial decision on the Nkandla investigation. This request is oblivious of the fact that though I am enjoined by the Constitution to exercise final responsibility over the NPA as a Cabinet member responsible for the administration of justice, this does not extend to interfering with the independence of the NPA by encroaching on its prosecutorial discretion.
We remain committed to expanding access to justice to more communities. In this regard, we are in the process of building new courts in previously underserviced areas such as Dimbaza (Eastern Cape), Mamelodi (Gauteng), Plettenburg Bay (Western Cape) and the Port Shepstone Magistrate’s Office (KZN). We envisage that the construction of all these courts will be completed in this financial year. The people of Mpumalanga will now have a high court division, similar to the Limpopo High Court, which houses various justice services.
Our resolve to align magisterial districts with municipal boundaries has become effective in Gauteng, North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. This programme ensures that more of our people are able to access justice closer to where they live. During 2017, the rationalisation of magisterial districts and courts will be rolled out to 3 more provinces, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape.
The Department has continued to expand its footprint of Small Claims Courts in the country which allows for speedy, inexpensive and informal legal recourse for matters within the monetary jurisdiction of R15 000. To date, 405 Small Claims Courts have been established throughout the country.
Legal Aid South Africa continues to make access to justice a reality for poor and disadvantaged groups as reflected by the more than 320 000 new matters that were taken by the end of the third quarter of 2016. Legal advice services were rendered to over 230 000 people through the call centre. Legal Aid South Africa has expanded its national delivery footprint to 64 justice centres, 64 satellite offices, 13 high court units and 13 civil units.
As part of the renaissance project, we have identified the need to review the languages used in our courts with a view to enhancing the right of access to justice; defining the role of traditional courts and community courts to ensure that they offer qualitative alternative forms of access to justice at which services are offered freely and expeditiously; promoting access to services of Advice Offices and the optimal use of paralegals. In this regard, the Department has started working on a Discussion Document on the use of African Languages in court proceedings and court processes. The Discussion Document will propose amendments to the language provisions in the Magistrates Courts Act, advocate for curriculum in the LLB Degree programme to incorporate African languages, promote the professionalisation of court interpretation services and the building of capacity for translation services.
Family law services of the Department, including the services of the Master are central to the livelihood of vulnerable members of society, especially children. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to improve our service offering in these aspects of our work. We will continue with our drive to encourage maintenance beneficiaries to receive their maintenance payouts through bank accounts. Thus far this initiative is yielding positive results. During the 2016/17 financial year a total of R1.6 billion was paid to 183 000 maintenance beneficiaries through the EFT systems. Equally, the introduction of the Paperless Estates Administration System (PEAS) in the Master’s Office has enhanced the efficacy in the management of deceased estates. The system has been rolled out to 15 Masters’ Offices country wide, as well as approximately 206 service points in total. This has resulted in improved accountability and faster turnaround times.
In so far as the implementation of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is concerned, the Department is ensuring the finalization of the Regulations on Community Rehabilitation in line with the decision by Cabinet that the identified communities that must be addressed on a case by case basis, under the supervision of the Inter-ministerial Committee on the People Empowerment Programme. I wish to emphasize the fact that the President’s Fund has only been utilised for benefits to the identified victims and the recipients of educational support as provided for by the existing regulations.
We are in the process of transforming State Legal Services, the aim of which is two-fold. Firstly, to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the legal services rendered to government at all levels and to use the system to expedite transformation within the profession and building capacity for inclusive participation in the profession, especially by those who were historically marginalized such as women and Black people in particular.
This will require that all role players in government must agree on a framework for the distribution of briefs. In this regard, we have requested the National Treasury to assist with the establishment of a Framework Contract that will ensure fair distribution of briefs to advocates and private law firms. In 2016/17, the Department has paid approximately R781 million to counsel. 79% of this total was paid to counsel who fall within the category of Previously Disadvantaged Individuals and 26% to female counsel.
Also in terms of transformation, the sheriff’s profession is also gradually becoming more representative by day. As at the end of February 2017 there were 268 practising sheriffs of which 189 were male and 79 were female with the overall percentage of Black sheriffs totalling 62%.
I am pleased to announce that a few Bills of great significance are at an advanced stage and feature on the Department’s 2017 legislative programme. Among these is the Traditional Courts Bill, the main objective of which is to create a uniform legislative framework, regulating the role and functions of traditional courts in the resolution of certain disputes in accordance with the constitutional imperatives and values. The Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will improve access to justice as such courts are easily accessible to local municipalities, and are able dispense justice speedily and cheaply.
The Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill, among other things, aims to criminalise cyber-facilitated offences by means of the offences of fraud, forgery, uttering and extortion, which were adapted specifically for the cyber environment.
The Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill, aims to provide greater protection to persons who report improprieties or irregularities in the workplace. It is hoped that it will encourage whistle blowers to blow the whistle when they come across conduct that requires attention of the authorities, whoever they may be.
The Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, aims to create much-needed protection for groups that are vulnerable to targeted crimes because of their race, sexual orientation or gender, national origin, occupation and disability. Much work has been done in respect of the Bill, which was approved by Cabinet for public consultation in October 2016. It is envisaged that the Bill will be tabled in Parliament later this year.
The Bill was developed alongside the National Action Plan (NAP) to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, which will serve as framework for the development of policy on these issues. The NAP has been subjected to intensive public participation process last year and it is envisaged that the revised version will be submitted to Cabinet for approval in September 2017.
Whilst this legislative intervention will go a long way to serve as a deterrent of perversions in society, more needs to be done to address the underlying socio-economic inequalities that fuel racist and sexist tendencies in particular. Hence, the introduction of the notion of radical economic transformation by government and the ruling party to level the playing field in this regard.
Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services