Deputy Speaker / Honourable House Chairperson,
Chair of the Portfolio Committee,
The Director-General and all other heads of entities within the Justice family,
Ladies and gentlemen,
For a long time, the majority of our people were excluded from the justice system, unable to access justice services and unable to enforce their rights.
Today, our justice system serves everyone in our country.
Our Small Claims Courts improve access to justice and make civil justice inexpensive, less formal and accessible to those who cannot afford litigation in the ordinary civil courts. These courts are used to settle minor civil disputes and claims of up to R20 000 between parties without representation by an attorney, in an informal manner.
When Small Claims Courts were first introduced in 1985 they were in Bloemfontein, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Rustenburg and Springs. And even in 1994, at the dawn of our democracy, these courts were still mostly in white and urban areas.
Today we have 415 Small Claims Courts, with an extra 49 additional places of sitting, across the country. In 2018/19, these courts disposed of 56 000 cases, with claims to the value of R290m. The Department is currently evaluating the legislative framework governing small claims courts. We want to ensure that these courts evolve in line with the Constitution, as these courts pre-date the Constitution, and that some of the procedures are further streamlined to make it even more effective.
Under the apartheid regime, many were charged with crimes, often political crimes, and left to face a repressive, unjust and inhumane justice system. Most South Africans were denied access to courts or legal representation. For example, in 1992, a mere two years before the dawn of our democracy, a staggering 150 000 convicted persons were sentenced to imprisonment without any legal representation. In 1993, an estimated 60% of accused persons in the regional courts were unrepresented, while in the district courts about 89% of accused persons were unrepresented.
Today Legal Aid SA continues to champion the rights of all persons to access justice through the provision of independent, accessible and quality legal aid services in criminal and civil legal matters. In 2018/2019, Legal Aid SA took on a total of over 416 000 new matters, of which 362 000 were criminal matters and nearly 54 000 civil matters. The provision of legal advice, in order to empower communities on their legal rights and responsibilities, benefitted 308 000 people, via its national footprint of 64 Local and 64 Satellite Offices*1, the Legal Aid Advice Line and consultations with remand detainees. In total, 724 000 persons were assisted by the organisation in 2018/19 – of these, 16 000 were children. Matters involving children continue to receive priority. In addition to providing legal representation to all children in conflict with the law, Legal Aid SA also does individual tracking of children who are incarcerated for periods in excess of one month in correctional facilities. Legal Aid SA received its 17th consecutive unqualified audit opinion in 2018/2019, confirming the organisation’s commitment to the responsible, accountable and prudent spending of public resources. I want to take this opportunity to bid farewell and sincerely thank the former Chairperson of Legal Aid SA, Judge President JP Mlambo, as well as the outgoing CEO, Ms Vidhu Vedalankar, for their immense contributions to the success that Legal Aid SA is today.
We are continuing to look at ways of increasing access to justice. Community advice offices are often the very first port of call for persons or communities seeking legal assistance. We are therefore pleased that we are finalizing the policy framework on community advice offices and to regulate community-based paralegals. This will be finalised upon the development of a funding model which is currently being prepared. Sustainable funding is vital and we are looking at options around a mixed funding model to ensure the long term sustainability of community advice offices.
When it comes to the sheriffs’ profession, very often the first person someone meets when dealing with the civil justice system will be the sheriff and or his or her deputies. Sheriffs play an extremely important role in the justice system as they serve court processes and execute warrants and orders of court. The continuous development of our court rules and processes will no doubt also impact on the traditional way of work of the sheriff.
In May this year I appointed 24 new sheriffs to fill vacant offices countrywide and for the first time in our history more women (14) than men (10) were appointed as sheriffs. Where, in the past, the sheriffs’ profession was overwhelmingly white and male, at the end of February 2019, of the 254 sheriffs operating nationally, 31% were female and 69% male; 36,2% are White and 63,8% are Black.
Our Department also continues to implement programmes and activities aimed at enhancing the protection of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex persons through the work of our National Task Team on LGBTI Rights. For those who may not be that familiar with the work of the National Task Team, the NTT is a very successful partnership between government and civil society and was named by the UN’s Office of the High Commission on Human Rights as a best practice model and international case study of government and civil society co-operation. South Africa also recently co-sponsored a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution to renew, for a second three-year term, the mandate of the U.N. Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Out of the 39 pending hate crime cases that were being tracked by the NTT’s Rapid Response Team, 10 of these cases were recently finalized with convictions of life imprisonment for both rape and murder.
In the 2019/20 financial year, our Department will convene a National Summit on the Protection of LGBTI Rights in South Africa. To further ensure that the criminal justice system protects the rights of the LGBTI persons who have been victims of violence, we will also roll out the Guide for Service Providers in the Criminal Justice system on the Protection of the Rights of LGBTI Persons, as well as assist SAPS with the roll out of the Standard Operating Procedure for SAPS officials on LGBTI Rights.
We also continue our work to protect the human rights of those living with HIV/AIDS. Last month we - together with the South African National Aids Council - launched the National Human Rights Plan in response to Human Rights-Related Barriers to HIV and TB services to, amongst other, reduce stigma and discrimination, to sensitize and train health workers and service providers, increase legal literacy campaigns, and strengthen access to legal support services for those living with HIV/AIDS and TB.
With regards to the National Sexual Offences Register, I think it is important to repeat what I had said in the Committee. The registry is not yet implementable and that its implementation should be reconsidered.
Currently only persons convicted of sexual offences against children and disabled persons will be placed on the registry. Other sexual offences cases will not appear.
An additional factor is that after several years a person can be removed from the registry. The main question is whether this registry is necessary, especially since any employer - not only those who work with children and mentally disabled people - can go to SAPS to determine if a prospective employee has a criminal record.
The information of the sexual offences registry will be confidential which is counterintuitive considering that employers can go to SAPS for this information. These are but some of the policy issues that must be considered before the registry can come into operation.
We should have no illusions about the fact that levels of racism, prejudice and intolerance are increasing – one simply has to look at social media to see this.
Therefore, in addition to what the Minister has highlighted in terms of the National Action Plan against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the Prevention of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, there are also Equality Courts which can assist.
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act provides for the designation of Equality Courts to adjudicate matters specifically relating to infringements of the right to equality, unfair discrimination and hate speech.
The Act stipulates that all High Courts are automatically designated as Equality Courts and all Magistrates’ Courts have been designated as Equality Courts. This has improved access to justice as the public can now go to their nearest Magistrates’ Court.
Some 473 cases were registered in the Equality Courts countrywide in 2018/19. Of the complaints that were reported at the Equality Courts nationally in 2018/19, over 50% of the reported complaints relate to unfair discrimination, followed by hate speech with 30%.
Given the relatively low number of cases registered in some provinces, we intend to embark an awareness campaigns to make everyone aware of the existence of the Equality Courts and the types of matters that are dealt with by these courts. Two provinces*2 have been identified to have Equality Court awareness sessions where we will partner with Legal Aid SA, Chapter 9 Institutions and other role-players.
When this House passed our Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act, we said that the search for improved socio-economic circumstances and the demand for the services of victims of trafficking contribute to making persons vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking.
We passed the legislation because we were concerned by the increase of trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
In April this year, the Department launched the National Policy Framework on Trafficking in Persons in South Africa which is a tool for the implementation, management and monitoring of the TIP Act.
Key activities include the establishment of an information system to track TIP cases inside and outside the country. It will assist us to generate statistics of TIP cases including assessing trends, thereby enabling government to improve its efforts aimed at fighting trafficking in persons.
Other activities include the launch of the training manual on the prevention and combating of trafficking in persons and sector-specific training manuals for the Departments of Social Development, Health, Home Affairs and Labour.
One of our Department’s main priorities is to ensure that persons know what their human rights are and where to go when those rights are infringed. A democracy cannot flourish, let alone function, if we do not actively promote awareness of human rights.
The main objective of the Socio-Economic Justice (SEJA) Programme is to facilitate the realisation of socio-economic rights for vulnerable and marginalized groups and the strengthening of civil society organisations in the social justice sector. Some Members may know that SEJA is coming to an end this year. This programme has been extremely successful when it comes to increasing awareness of constitutional rights and enhancing participatory democracy.
We are pleased to advise that the SEJA Programme has met or exceeded all its targets on the 2018/19 performance indicators, with 3,8 million people reached by multimedia campaigns to raise awareness and knowledge of the Constitution – nearly double the set target of 2 million.
Since its inception in 2014 up to March this year, SEJA has reached 34,4 million people – 34 million people who now have a better understanding of their human rights and how to access them.
In addition, programmes were implemented to sustain increased awareness and knowledge of constitutional rights, grants have been awarded to civil society organisations working in the human rights sector to promote awareness and research programmes were conducted on the implementation of socio-economic rights.
Despite the end of SEJA, the Department will continue with programmes to increase constitutional education, human rights awareness and participatory democracy.
South Africa’s commitment to multilateralism is realised by our dedicated and full participation in international, continental and regional organisations. We continue to support the work that is done by the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South Africa deposited its Initial Country Report to the United Nations Committee on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and was invited by the UN Committee to present this report in October last year. The feedback was positive and the Committee expressed their gratitude to South Africa for developing jurisprudence on the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights and for promoting the human rights agenda within the United Nations system. Just before the elections, we presented our periodic report to the Committee against Torture (CAT). The 5th Parliament also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and it comes into effect this Saturday – the 20th of July 2019.
Chairperson, Honourable Members,
In two days’ time we celebrate the birth of President Nelson Mandela. Sello Hatang writes about Mandela Day and says that it isn’t enough for people to take action against poverty for an hour and seven minutes on July 18 each year, as this will not change systems and structures.
Instead, we should use the campaign as a tool for social justice.
We echo this call for social justice for all.
Madiba said: “Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.”
When it comes to access to justice for all, there have been many milestones – and we are more than ready for the road ahead.
I thank you!
*1 Amended numbers on 23 July 2019
*2 North West and the Northern Cape