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Address by Honourable Minister Ronald Lamola to Parliament on the Annual Report 2018/19 on 16 October 2019

Honourable Chairperson and Members
Acting Director-General and Staff Members
                    
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address this very important Committee on the performance of the department.

The report before you today is the last report of the fifth administration and also the last within the 25 years of our Constitutional democracy. As a department, we have come a long way and the journey started with luminaries Dullah Omar, right up to where my predecessor had left the important task of ensuring that our people have access to justice, constitutionalism and the rule of law which are enshrined in this great nation.

Honorable Members, from the perspective of the Ministry, this annual report and the feedback received from the auditor general serve as a diagnostic report. We can choose to look at this annual report through the prism of performance, or we can choose to use this report as a base which outlines the systemic problems which curtail our department from being at the forefront of:

•    Access to Justice for All;
•    Transforming both the judiciary and the legal profession; and
•    Promoting Constitutionalism and the rule of law through the entire sphere of society.

Vacancy Rate

Honorable members, one of the challenges which has a direct impact on the performance of the department is the high vacancy rate we are seeing across the board.

Now more than ever, the Justice Machinery needs skilled administrators to make our constitutional vision a reality.

This is certainly a priority I intend to resolve before the next annual report is presented. All senior management posts must be filled, with exceptionally skilled people, who have the heart to serve South Africans.

Justice and Correctional Services Futuristic Plan

As I have said, this report must be viewed as the culmination of an era. There are strategic long-term questions which the Department has been tasked to address in a strategic planning workshop which will be convened by the Ministry in a couple of weeks.

Part of the strategic work requires us to take stock of important milestones such as ensuring that each province has a High Court. This has meant that justice is more accessible.

Someone in Sibasa who needs to effect a divorce is no longer required to drive six hours to Pretoria only to be told certain papers have not to be filled correctly.

But in that same vein, we are now required to ensure that our courts’ services evolve, our people need a justice system which is efficient and expeditious.

Digitization and Integration

For us to achieve these goals, digitization must be at the center of the justice system across the board. More especially the criminal justice system.

Admittedly, this a project which has not been implemented satisfactorily to date. As a result, the Ministry will make this a top priority.

Honourable Members, we want South Africans from all walks of life to walk into courtrooms which are functional and well organized. Our courts must serve the people without any unnecessary delays.

Digitization is at the center of turning around the court administration. We want to deliver in terms of improving the experience of victims and witnesses.

This means supporting victims through the Criminal Justice System process and making fair and respectful treatment of victims and witnesses the norm.

We must digitize the Criminal Justice System so that we can streamline processes – this means police embracing digital tools and courtrooms becoming a beacon of digital working.

Our cases must be dealt with at the appropriate level and promptly, particularly in the magistrates’ and Superior Courts where better ways of working will make the system more efficient and effective.

Digitization of the Criminal Justice System is not the only action we will take. We need to improve the way the Criminal Justice System deals with specific crimes that require an enhanced response.

Sexual violence cannot continue unabated. Domestic violence and abuse ruins lives and shatters our women in our communities. To this end, ensuring that we overhaul the criminal procedure act, and other related legislation to ensure that we differentiate between sexual offences and gender-based violence crimes is an important milestone.

We also need to able to respond to cybercrime as emerging crime.

Honourable Members, one of the things which can be gleaned from this performance is the fact that we are still struggling to integrate the work of the department of justice and constitutional development with that of the department of correctional services, police and other relevant departments.

This is despite our report stating that in the period between April 2016 and March 2019, over 1,6 million cases were electronically processed through the Integrated Justice System (IJS) between SAPS, NPA and the DoJ&CD.

These electronic information exchanges include associated docket ready notifications, docket requests, electronic charge sheets and electronic case outcome (postponement, date & reasons) integrations.

Available nationally, these integrations are connecting 1,144 police stations linked to 509 courts across all nine provinces and enable reporting of performance of the criminal justice system.

Efforts will continue to ensure that all other players, entities and departments within the criminal justice system are included in the IJS system.

We have not been able to observe the impact of these developments in the lived experience of South Africans. The ultimate measure of service delivery is its impact on people who use and need these services the most.

It is clear to me that the culture of integration in the departments does not exist and this is something that the Deputy Ministers and I will drive.

Transforming the Judiciary and Legal Professions

Honorable Members, one of the most troubling divisions in the department which is in a dire condition is the Office of the State Attorney.

Government civil litigation if not handled well, can prove to be a major threat to country’s fiscal liability. Whilst we welcome the Special Investigative Unit’s investigation into the division, we realize that we cannot rely on that investigation alone to turn this division around.

As result, we are in the process of finalizing governance model that will ensure that the state attorney becomes a model law firm.

We will also conclude the state litigation strategy and clear Counsel Briefing Policy is finalized and the Tariff Policy and Mediation Policy is receiving urgent attention. We are looking at presenting this to cabinet in due course.

Gender-Based Violence

Honourable Chairperson

The high level of femicide and gender-based violence in our country remains a sore point and requires all of us to do our bit to curb this scourge.

Following the successful National Summit on Femicide and Gender-based Violence on November 2018, the Department will continue to lead in the implementation of initiatives flowing from this engagement.

Our people want to see a department that is responsive to this issue but most importantly, our nation wants to see proper plans to address the systemic problems in our processes that lead to secondary victimization.

The roll-out of sexual offences courts remains an important leg in assisting our quest to eradicate gender-based violence and femicide. An additional 15 courtrooms were adapted in line with the model of the sexual offences and this brought the total number of courtrooms adapted to 90.

We are planning a further 10 courtrooms in the current financial year.  Dedicated sexual offences courts that were adapted in the previous financial year include Bredasdorp in the Western Cape, Postmansdorp in the Northern Cape, Thaba ‘Nchu in the Free State, and the current financial year Sibasa in Limpopo.

We are alive to the fact that the roll-out of these courts is not a silver bullet. Furthermore, whilst we are encouraged by the increase in convictions on sexual offences, we are careful not to use that as the only yardstick of performance.

We will be closing monitoring the number of matters which are enrolled on court rolls and the time it takes to finalize these matters.

Once the treasury process has been finalized, around the R 1 billion allocations to address the scourge of gender-based violence will ensure that we capacitate our Thutuzela Care Centres which are proving to be a critical part of our machinery in the fight against gender-based violence.

Governments Fight Against Corruption

The ultimate test of our resolve against corruption lies firmly in the ability of the criminal justice system to ensure those who have ploughed state coffers are held accountable in a court of law.

There is no doubt that this a priority of this administration, this also evidenced by the department’s assistance to the NPA. R102 Million has been given to the NPA for it to do its work without fear or favour.

We have also made it possible for the NPA to solicit the services of a diverse group of counsels which vary in experience. We will continue to ensure that the NPA is capacitated.

We have also signed mutual legal assistance agreements and extradition treaties with various countries across the world to aid the work of the NPA. The wheels of justice must turn without any hindrance.

 And as we have said, the interests of justice have no borders. We know that those who have looted our state have sophisticated networks in all the four corners of the world.

To resolve this issue, we need the co-operation of various law enforcement agencies across the globe.

Audit Outcomes:

The audit outcome for the DOJCD reveals the contradictory problems in the department.  Whilst it is very satisfying to note the sustained clean audit results on the Guardian Fund, Third Party Funds and President Fund.

It is equally concerning that there is a new qualification on movable assets that was raised.  The audit findings on performance information is a relatively new addition to the auditor general’s report and the feedback received is of tremendous value to the Department to improve its performance overall.

As we speak, the SIU special tribunal stands ready to recoup R 14,7 Billion. The State Capture Commission will also be resourced adequately and perhaps most importantly, mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that its investigations flow into the workstream of the NPA.

A project plan for Audit Outcomes plan:

I have asked the acting director-general and the team to present a project plan which will ensure that our audits outcomes drastically improve. This will be monitored by the Ministry.

With this in place, I am certain that before the end of this year, that will address the challenges that have led to the increases in irregular expenditure.

In the reported instances, the Department has requested forensic investigations from various external bodies to ensure that the challenges are clarified given the current environment.

This is an additional precautionary measure to ensure that where there are instances of irregular expenditure, we must establish that there was no corruption.

However, some of the findings raised relate to new interpretations that can only be resolved through communication with the National Treasury.

As far as consequence management is concerned, the department has to focus on two aspects, i.e. was the system not adequately designed or did an official not follow the process as per the designed system of internal control.

In the first instance, the systems are improved and in the last instance, appropriate progressive disciplinary action will be implemented.  I will be personally tracking the implementation of consequence management.

We need an official who believes that Justice matters. Our officials must be willing at material times to make a difference for the public we serve. Our approach should be one which engenders us to citizens.

We must demonstrate that we value everyone who seeks our help. And ultimately, we must be able to demonstrate that we are building a government which listens; collaborates and acts towards a common purpose.

Khanya Cekeshe:

Honourable Chair, just before I conclude, I would like to restate something I have stated in public. In my previous appearance before parliament, I was asked what type of assistance is available to fees must fall activists who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

In particular, I was asked whether the department could assist with Presidential pardons concerning this matter. I made it clear then that there is no blanket amnesty process. All of them will have to apply for assistance and upon this application, the department will duly assist.

This is the same offer we have extended to Khanya Cekeshe.  Like other Fees Must Fall activists, he will be required to process required forms that he must fill and supply various information. I have since been advised that he has applied for leave to appeal, this effectively means that the application for a pardon cannot be entertained alongside the judicial process.

To inform our citizens of this process is not to undo the work of the prosecutor with a stroke of a pen. On the contrary, a pardon in our days is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power, it is a part of the Constitutional scheme.

Chair, in conclusion, I would like to pay a special tribute to one of the contributors to the Constitution as we know it today. Advocate Wille Hofmeyer leaves the Asset Forfeiture Unit after dedicating a great deal of his life to its work.

People like Advocate Hofmeyer are simply irreplaceable, but our society needs to replicate them to take this Constitutional society forward. We thank the advocate for his distinguished and ethical service to the nation.

I thank you.