Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Chairperson of Select Committee on Security and Justice,
Honourable Members of the National Council of Provinces,
Ladies and Gentlemen
The aim of providing access to justice drives the work of our Department.
As Minister has indicated, when it comes to courts there have been significant developments around rationalization and infrastructure.
The Department embarked on the rationalization of magisterial districts and aligning the jurisdiction of magistrates’ courts with municipal and provincial boundaries so that communities can obtain legal redress and access justice services nearer to where they live.
All provinces have been aligned, with the exception of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, where consultations with the judiciary, stakeholders and affected communities are still ongoing. The aim is to finalise this during the current financial year.
With regards to the alignment of magisterial districts with High Courts, the alignment of the divisions of High Courts with Provinces for Gauteng, North-West and Limpopo, have been completed.
The alignment of magisterial districts also provides us with the opportunity to re-consider the current spread of chief magistrates in some of the larger provinces to ensure a better alignment of administrative regions. For example, currently in the Western Cape all 3 Chief Magistrates are appointed in Cape Town - one in Wynberg, one in Cape Town and the other one in Mitchells Plain - whilst some of the Chief Magistrates are heads of an administrative region and others not. The same applies to some of the other provinces such as KZN and the Eastern Cape. Changes in this regard will take place after consultation with the Magistrates Commission and other role players.
Small Claims Courts significantly improve access to justice and make civil justice inexpensive and accessible to those who cannot afford litigation in the civil courts.
These courts are used to settle civil disputes and claims of up to R20 000 between parties, without representation by an attorney, expeditiously and in an informal manner.
Today we have 415 Small Claims Courts, with an extra 49 additional places of sitting, across the country. In 2018/19, these courts resolved 56 000 cases, with claims to the value of R290m – so although they are called small claims, these are not small amounts.
Advisory boards, consisting of appointed members of the public, stakeholders and officials of the Department, are effectively responsible for the functioning of the Small Claims Court in a particular Magistrates Court.
The inclusion of persons from the community on these boards is to be encouraged as they make valuable inputs around the concerns of the public. As this is a service to the community, members of advisory boards render a form of community service and are thus not remunerated for their services.
This is something where the Honourable Members can assist by identifying suitable persons in their communities to serve on these Boards.
I would like to highlight the services being offered by our regional offices - in particular when it comes to court operations, support to victims and other vulnerable members of society who seek redress from the courts.
Our regional offices provide administrative support to the small claims courts, domestic violence courts, maintenance courts, child justice courts and children’s courts by monitoring cases and statistics in their region, managing and training court officials, managing complaints, stakeholder management and conducting awareness campaigns regarding the work of the Department and the courts.
In addition, the regional offices play a vital role in our efforts to combat trafficking in persons and to assist our National Task Team on LGBTI Rights.
They also have a particular focus on priority areas such as, for example, the Sexual Offences Courts in the various regions by monitoring the number of cases in these courts, ensuring that these are equipped with the correct systems and that it is in working order, attending to the allocation and availability of intermediaries, training of court officials in this sphere of operations and being responsible for stakeholder engagement.
I’ve mentioned the Sexual Offences Courts specifically - because Sexual Offences Courts offer a number of victim-support services, which include, amongst others, court preparation services and intermediaries who convey questions and statements received from the court to the victim in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.
In addition, we make use of specialised audio-visual equipment and services such as testifying services for children, persons with mental disabilities, and all traumatised victims, irrespective of age.
These witnesses testify in private testifying rooms, designed for that purpose, through a CCTV system - out of the physical presence of the accused and other people.
Furthermore, we are continuously working with role-players to improve the practical implementation of the sexual offences legislation. The regulations setting out the minimum requirements for sexual offences courts have been finalised after consultations with Regional Magistrates, the NPA and civil society service providers. We are currently awaiting the inputs and concurrence of the Chief Justice before gazetting them.
In February, the Department finalized Phase 1 of the Femicide Watch which is intended to assist the country to measure, profile, prevent and respond appropriately to incidents of femicide. It is the first in Africa. In 2019/20, the Department will be developing Phase 2 of the Femicide Watch.
We should have no illusions about the fact that levels of racism, prejudice and intolerance are increasing and here we have Equality Courts which can assist. Equality Courts adjudicate matters specifically relating to infringements of the right to equality, unfair discrimination and hate speech.
All High Courts and Magistrates’ Courts have been designated as Equality Courts. I am pleased to advise that the Minister will soon publish a proclamation designating Regional Courts as Equality Courts, so members of the public can now access the services of the Equality Courts at their nearest Magistrates’ Court.
Some 473 cases were registered in the Equality Courts countrywide in 2018/19 - over 50% of the reported complaints relate to unfair discrimination, followed by hate speech with 30%.
When one looks at these cases from a provincial point of view, it’s very interesting that in only 2 provinces a significant number of cases are being brought to these courts. Of the 473 cases registered, the overwhelming majority came from KZN, with 229 cases. Then came Gauteng with 135 cases.
In the other provinces the numbers are very low - there were 28 cases in the Eastern Cape, 7 in the Free State, 9 in Limpopo, 10 in Mpumalanga, 1 in North West, 13 in the Northern Cape and 41 in the Western Cape.
This tells us that we need to do more to make persons and communities aware of these courts. We therefore intend to embark on awareness campaigns on the Equality Courts and the types of matters that are dealt with by these courts.
Two provinces – North West and the Northern Cape - have been identified to have Equality Court awareness sessions where we will partner with Legal Aid SA, Chapter 9 Institutions and other role-players. We would, no doubt, like to do the remaining provinces as well, but due to severe budgetary constraints it will only be possible to do these two provinces in this financial year.
Legal Aid SA continues to champion the rights of all persons to access justice through the provision of legal aid services.
Legal Aid SA has a national footprint of 64 local offices and 64 satellite offices which are closely aligned to where the courts are located in the various provinces, as well as allowing for a reasonable travel distance for clients to access its offices. From a provincial perspective, Legal Aid SA ensures that its service delivery footprint and resource allocation is planned bearing in mind population demographics, in- and out-migration, the urban rural divide and improved alignment to demand for its services.
The National Development Plan urges us to build a society where all persons are and feel safe. This means that we need a criminal justice system that works. Notwithstanding existing challenges, the conviction rates of cases are indicative of a functioning system:
• All criminal courts managed to obtain a 94% conviction rate;
• High courts achieved an 89% rate;
• Regional courts a rate of 81% - the highest rate in the past 5 years.
• District courts a rate of 95% - exceeding the target by 2%.
Chairperson, to conclude,
The budget and the programme we present today underscore Government’s commitment to access to justice for all and the advancement of the Rule of Law.
I thank you.