Customer Service Charter for Court Users
 

Contents


 
Foreword
1. What Services Are Provided Under The Ministry Of Justice 2. What You Can Generally Expect at a Court
3. What To Expect In Your Dealings With The Court Services 4. Prosecutorial Services
5. Criminal Court Services 6. Victim Support And Empowerment Services
7. Civil Court Services 8. Family Related Court Services
9. Court Services for Children 10. Other Specialised Court Services
11. Administration of Estates 12. Legal Aid Services
13. Language Services 14. Informal Dispute Resolution Services
15. Information And Advice Services 16. What To Do When Standards Are Not Met

Foreword

The courts promote peace, stability and democracy through conflict resolution. Unfortunately, most people who come to court are often overwhelmed by the experience and anxious about what to expect.

This Customer Service Charter For Court Users (Charter) is one of the measures that we have developed to make the courts more user-friendly, effective and responsive to the needs of all users regardless of their race, gender, social, economic and other differences.

The Charter is the culmination of an inclusive consultative process involving all role players in the court system, which formally commenced in April 1998, with the aim of implementing Batho Pele: White Paper on the Transformation of Public Service Delivery and Justice Vision 2000: The Transformation Strategy of the Department of Justice. The Charter should also be viewed as a measure adopted by the Ministry of Justice as an organ of state, to "...assist and protect the courts to ensure their independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness" , as required by the Constitution.

The Charter provides basic information about the court systems and procedures. It also outlines the minimum standards of service and performance you can expect to find in a court. The standards are based on a Service Delivery Improvement Plan(SDIP) which incorporates a Model Court Blue Print. It also sets out steps which we are taking to realise the promises we are making in this Charter and time-frame for the realisation of each service or standard.

However, we are conscious of the many objective constraints which mean that despite our full commitment to bettering the quality of court services, not all our expectations, however legitimate, will necessarily be immediately realised. Where a service or standard is not yet possible in some of the courts, this is indicated with an asterrix in the Charter.

We count on a strong partnership with you for the realisation of the promises in this Charter.

Chief Justice Ismail Mahomed
CHAIRPERSON: JUDICIAL SERVICE COMMISSION
Dr Dullah Omar, MP
MINISTER OF JUSTICE
Mr Justice Bernard Ngoepe
CHAIRPERSON: MAGISTRATES COMMISSION
Mr Bulelani Ngcuka
NATIONAL DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
Adv Vusi Pikoli
ACTING DIRECTOR-GENERAL: JUSTICE

1. What Services Are Provided Under The Ministry Of Justice

We provide the following key services:

  • Prosecutorial Services
  • Criminal Court Services
  • Victim Empowerment and Support Services
  • Civil Court Services
  • Family Related Court Services
  • Court Services For Children
  • Other Specialized Court Services
  • Administration of Estates
  • Legal Aid Services
  • Language Services
  • Informal Dispute Resolution Services
  • Information & Advice Services
  • Complaint Mechanisms

2. What You Can Generally Expect at a Court

We appreciate that your coming to court is often stressful or traumatic. All our personnel are committed to taking every effort to make your attendance a simple and worthwhile experience.

You can expect, the following standards of services when you visit our courts.

You can expect, the personnel in the court to:

  • deal with you professionally and accord you fair and equal treatment, irrespective of your race, gender, socio-economic status, disability and other social attributes
  • identify themselves by name or wear name badges for identification
  • address you directly, with respect and due regard for your human dignity and other human rights
  • treat you courteously and provide you with an apology and an explanation if things go wrong.

When you arrive at the court, you can expect:

  • an Information/Public Relations desk
  • a Citizen's Advice Desk*
  • clear directional signage and clean public toilets
  • to be kindly directed to a waiting area or the court room where your case will take place
  • information services which will help you find your way around the court easily
  • a clean court house with adequate lighting, within a reasonable radius, and which is accessible and user-friendly
  • special services such as ramps and/or assistance from staff, if you have a disability *
  • a pre-trial service, in the criminal court, which assists with case evaluation for bail purposes*
  • affordable services which are free of corruption
  • to be served by independent, accountable and impartial judicial officers who conduct their work with integrity and without bias
  • our court processes to be transparent, fair and reliable
  • a cash hall*
  • an NGO office
  • lawyers consultation offices and business centres with electronic communication facilities*
  • court facilities to be safe, accessible and convenient to use
  • prompt delivery of records, on request
  • an automated file tracking system *
  • court library* and refreshment facilities

3. What to Expect in Your Dealings with the Court Services

If you phone, you can expect personnel to:

  • answer the phone courteously within 3 rings, identify the centre and give their names
  • be helpful and deal with your inquiries and telephone massages promptly
  • transfer your call to another official, where necessary

If you write, you can expect:

  • to be sent a courteous and clear reply or telephoned within 7 working days
  • if your matter is complex, an acknowledgement of receipt within 7 working days and detailed correspondence not later than 3 months
  • correspondence in plain language and where possible, in your preferred language

When you are requested to come to court, you can expect:

  • to be provided in advance of your attendance with clear information as to the time and place of your court appearance and what will happen in court
  • the language used in the court to be simple and where possible, your preferred language

When you lodge a complaint, you can expect:

  • an impartial, speedy and effective complaints procedure
  • an apology or appropriate redress when standards have not been met

4. Prosecutorial Services

We provide prosecutorial services under the direction of the National Director of Public Prosecutions(NDPP). The NDPP heads a single National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The NPA has branches throughout the country.

The NPA is responsible for instituting and conducting criminal proceedings on behalf of the state and members of the public, hence its members are known as the "people's lawyers".

Once a matter has been brought before a prosecutor, you can expect:

  • the prosecutor to properly consult with you at every stage of the case and to inform you about his/her intentions regarding the case
  • it to be ordinarily handled by the same competent prosecutor throughout the proceedings
  • a prompt decision whether to prosecute or not and the reasons for the decision
  • to be regularly provided with a progress report on the case
  • the prosecutor to make every effort to assist with witness fees and, upon your request with notifying your employer where your involvement results in your absence from work

5. Criminal Court Services

The Criminal Justice Process

We provide criminal court services which are part of an integrated justice system. The entire system covers work done by the police, welfare officers, health workers, prosecutorial services, clerks of the court, judicial officers and correctional services personnel.

If you are charged with a crime, you can expect:

  • to make your first appearance before the magistrate within 48 hours or the next available court day
  • to be notified of the time and place of your trial and served with an indictment setting out the charges against you
  • to be informed of your right to be represented by a lawyer and what to do if you can't afford one.

If a criminal matter has been brought before a court, you can expect:

  • it to be heard in a Magistrates Court, Regional Court or High Court, depending on its seriousness or complexity
  • it to be finalised within 6 months
  • if it is a murder or another serious and/or complex crime, to be finalised within 12 months
  • if you are an interested party, to be informed when and in which court the matter will be heard
  • a copy of the court roll to be sent to the police as well as to the defence lawyers and the prosecution not less than 10 days before the case begins
  • to be informed when and where to attend if you are a witness

At the court, you can expect:

  • priority to be given to cases involving child witnesses and accused in custody
  • a court roll which lists the cases to be heard in a public area
  • the court roll to show -
    • -the cases to be heard
    • -the designated court rooms
    • -where possible, the name of the court personnel assigned to each case
  • the involvement of lay assessors in the Magistrates Court.

6. Victim Support And Empowerment Services

We offer support services which seek to recognise rights of and empower victims/survivors with a view to preventing secondary victimisation and to the extent possible, ensure reparation.

If you are a victim/survivor, you can expect:

  • to be treated as a person whose case is important and meaningful
  • to receive information, give information, where possible, receive legal advice and where needed, protection
  • trauma counselling and assistance with the completion of a domestic violence interdict
  • your case to be prioritised, if it involves rape or another sexual offence
  • arrangements to be made to provide reasonable accommodation for your disability
  • separate waiting rooms for victims of violence *
  • a 24 hr toll free help line for crisis counselling and information for abused women

If your matter involves a rape or another sexual offence, you can expect:

  • your matter to be prosecuted at a Sexual Offences Court*
  • to be assisted by court personnel who have been sensitised to your needs and who will follow National Policy Guidelines on victims of Sexual Offences
  • court personnel to minimise inconvenience to you and to protect your privacy
  • technical aid such as one-way mirrors and a closed circuit television sets to be used in appropriate circumstances*.
  • your matter to be finalised within 6 months.

7. Civil Court Services

Through the Small Claims Court, Magistrate Courts and the High Court we offer court services which are aimed at helping private parties to resolve their legal disputes

If a dispute has been brought before the court, you can expect:

  • the court to process your summons within 1 hour
  • an undefended matter to be finalised within 1 month
  • the court staff to issue an order within 3 days of it being granted by a judicial officer
  • an order prepared by you as parties involved in the case, to be issued by court staff within 1 day
  • a warrant of execution to be processed within 1 hour of your approaching the court, if the defendant has failed to pay as ordered
  • a request for interim relief such as an interdict, to be granted within 1 day
  • an uncomplicated dispute to be finalised within 6 months
  • a dispute involving complex matters to be finalised within 18 months.

NB. The realisation of these standards is subject to legal representatives co-operating with the Court.

Services in the Small Claims Court

We offer a Small Claims Court service which is a relatively informal dispute resolution service for private disputes of a monetary value not exceeding R3 000,00.

In your dealings with the Small Claims Court, you can expect:

  • court staff to assist you with the filling of required forms
  • the clerk of the court to promptly issue the documents and give immediate attention to the various processes
  • to be informed timeously about where and when the matter will be heard
  • your matter to be finalised within 60 days .

8. Family Related Court Services

We offer family related services, for matters such as:

  • divorce
  • custody and access
  • maintenance, and
  • domestic violence

You can generally expect:

  • a family related matter to be heard by a specialised Family Court* or the High Court, depending on the nature of the case
  • the clerk of the court or another court officer to help you with various procedures and with setting the matter down for trial, if you are acting on your own
  • the presiding officer to be helpful and to protect the best interest of the child
  • the involvement of the family advocate to protect the interest of children if children are involved
  • evaluation of the case within 3 months of referral to the family advocate
  • an undefended matter to be finalized within 3 months.

If you approach the court on a maintenance matter, you can expect:

  • to be assisted by a court officer to fill in the required forms for laying the complaint
  • court assistance with the tracing of the person against whom a maintenance order is sought
  • a maintenance order to be issued within 1 month, if the matter is not opposed
  • a maintenance order to be issued within 4 months in an ordinary opposed matter or 6 months, if the matter involves complex issues
  • the maintenance money to be paid directly to your bank account on request
  • the court personnel to respond to your telephone enquiries regarding whether money has been paid in or not.

If you approach a court on a domestic violence matter, you can expect:

  • conflict resolution services that foster family unity without compromising the right and safety of victims
  • advice regarding your rights and options available for pursuing your matter
  • the clerk of the court or another officer to assist you with the filling of required forms
  • assistance from the court officers who are warm, friendly, sensitive to the needs and experiences of victims.

9. Court Services for Children

If a matter involves a child, you can expect:

  • a child friendly court*
  • a child witness officer or intermediary to assist you and/or the child regarding any questions about procedures in court*
  • to be taken to a separate child friendly waiting area, with baby changing facilities*
  • the court to provide anatomical dolls for giving evidence
  • the protection of the privacy of the child victim / witness
  • the involvement of a social worker or probation officer

If you are a child accused of crime, you can expect:

  • court personnel to encourage the use of diversion to ensure an effective rehabilitation process and restorative justice
  • the court to do everything possible to avoid having you held in prison or police cell if you are under 14 years
  • ordinarily not to be kept in a police cell or prison for more than 48 hours, if you are 14 years and under 18 years

10. Other Specialised Court Services

We offer specialised court services for constitutional and other unique disputes, these include:

  • the Constitutional Court
  • the Land Claims Court
  • the Labour Court
  • the traffic offences court*

11. Administration of Estates

We offer services for the administration of estates through the offices of the Master of the High Court and the Magistrate's Courts.

You can generally expect:

  • a deceased estate to be finalised within 9 months
  • an insolvent estate to be finalised within 1year
  • a trust to be processed in 1 week
  • the prompt appointment of a curator.

12. Legal Aid Services

Through the Legal Aid Board, we offer free professional legal representation and advice to court users who cannot afford legal services. These services are provided through the following agencies:-

  • Law Clinics in the Universities, funded by the Legal Aid Board*
  • Legal Aid Offices around the Country *
  • Legal Aid representatives in the Magistrate's Court

If you indicate that you need Legal Aid services, you can expect:

  • a court officer to refer you to the relevant office
  • the Legal Aid officer to examine whether you are eligible to receive Legal Aid
  • to have your matter referred to a lawyer within 1 day
  • your matter to be handled professionally

Where there is no Law Clinic Legal/ Aid Office or Legal Aid representative,

  • please notify the Legal Aid Board at tel no. (012) 481 2700
  • they will come to your assistance

13. Language Services

In every court, you can expect:

  • competent Court Interpreters who have responsibility for assisting you with the understanding of the court proceedings
  • a sign language interpreter or an arrangement to procure 1 speedily on request
  • someone who will attend to your request that you be provided with a Court Interpreter who understands your language well
  • assistance with the translation of documents into braille or audio cassettes*

14. Informal Dispute Resolution Services

We offer informal dispute resolution services as part of the court process, in appropriate circumstances*

We also offer these services through special institutions such as Traditional Courts and Community Courts*.

If your matter has been brought before a court, you can expect:

  • to be given a choice whether it will resolved through ADR or ordinary litigation*
  • to be advised about the implications of either
  • your matter to be handled professionally, impartially and expeditiously

15. Information And Advice Services

If you get to court, you can expect:

  • a Citizen's Advice Desk* and or an Information/ Public Relations Desk
  • officers at the desk to inform you about what to do or where to go
  • the officers to provide you with information about your legal options and how the court works

Publications

We provide various publications including information brochures, at public centres, which give detailed information about the court services

We also provide radio and other community outreach services to educate the public and a website where you can access information on court services

Justice Help Line

We provide a 24 hour help line for your enquiries.


16. What To Do When Standards Are Not Met

Appealing against a judicial decision

If you are dissatisfied with the decision of a judicial officer in your case, you may approach a higher court to appeal against that decision. This includes the Supreme Court of Appeal

Complaints about court services

If you are unhappy about the treatment you received from or the handling of your case by a court officer, you may

  • raise your concern directly with the officer concerned
  • inform the officer at the Citizen's Advice or Information Desk
  • speak or write to the head of the court or cluster of courts

If not satisfied you may

  • Write to the Regional Head in the court's area
  • Write to the Minister of Justice

We will

  • address your complaint courteously and promptly
  • display guidelines in every court on how to complain
  • treat all complaints seriously and fairly
  • do everything possible to provide redress, where appropriate

Complaints about treatment by a judicial officer

If you are unhappy about the behaviour of a judicial officer, you may write to

  • the Judicial Service Commission, for Higher Court Judicial Officers
  • the Magistrates Commission, for Lower Court Judicial Officers

Complaints about Prosecutorial Services

If you are unhappy about the public prosecutor, you may

  • contact the Senior Public Prosecutor (SPP) responsible for the area where the case is being or was heard
  • contact the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) if it is a matter handled by the High Court

Complaints about Court Interpreters

If you are not satisfied with the services of a Court Interpreter, you may

  • contact the Chief Court Interpreter

Complaints about a Probation or Welfare Officer

If you are dissatisfied with the conduct of a Probation or Welfare Officer, you may

  • report the matter to the Department of Welfare

Complaints about a Police Officer

If you want to complain about the conduct of police officers, you may

  • contact the Department for Safety and Security
  • lodge a complaint with the Independent Complaints Directorate

Complaints about your lawyer

If you are dissatisfied with the professional conduct of your legal advisor or representative you may

  • inform the Legal Aid Board, if the person has been paid by them
  • report the matter to the Law Society, if the person is an attorney
  • report the matter to the General Council of the Bar (GCB), if the person is an advocate

Let us have your views

We value your views regarding the court services. Please let us have your views through the following:

  • our Help Line
  • our Website
  • regular Customer Opinion Surveys