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Speech by Mr Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services at the occasion of the opening of the Bitji Magistrates Court, in the OR Tambo District on 25 October 2019

The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mr. Oscar Mabuyane
Judge President Mbenenge of the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court and Judges present
Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Inkosi Phathekile Holomisa
MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison in the Eastern Cape, Ms. Weziwe Tikana
Regional Court President Mr Samson Dunywa and Members of the Magistracy
Executive Mayor for OR Tambo District, Cllr Nomakhosazana Meth
Executive Mayor for King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality, Cllr Nyaniso Nelani
Members of the Mayoral Committee
All Councilors Present
Amakhosi
Acting DG of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Advocate Skosana
The community of Bitji
Ladies and Gentlemen

Programme Director, we are excited to be here in the Eastern Cape, to officially open the newly built Bityi Magistrate Court in line with our mandate of broadening access to justice for all.

Our courts are critical spaces in our communities. They are centers of justice. These shared spaces enable us to correct what has gone wrong in society. They also help us understand our communities better. In its pursuit of justice, the courts hold up a mirror to society, which reveals a great deal about us.

This court is one of the several courts built in the rural and semi-urban areas of the country in our endeavor to take justice to the people. The reason for building courts, in communities like Bityi, is to ensure that we dismantle lawlessness in these communities. In this community, we have seen high murder rates and stock theft.

The community of Bityi must know that this court is a guarantor of the rule of law and they must access justice at their doorsteps without having to commute to Mthatha at huge transport cost and the inconvenience of time.

We want to see the court making a difference in the life of an elderly person here in Bityi who is a victim of stock theft. They must know that the law works for them through the Bityi Magistrate Court. This will only become practical when the court metes out justice to those who violate the rights of our elderly and vulnerable persons  through effective punishment.

This court must be responsive to victims of domestic violence and sexual offences. In our courts, women must find refuge. Men who assault, kill and abuse women must be pay for their heinous deeds through this court and harsh sentences should be meted out to them.

 We must also all join hands to protect women and children against the scourge of rape and other forms of gender based violence in society.

The Criminal Court is also equipped with the Sexual Offences System which will enable it to hear Sexual Offenses matters in a manner that will be victim-centric consistent with Sexual Offences Courts’ model we are rolling-out countrywide.  The Regional Court has also started to sit at this court week and four cases were finalised. 

Our courts are forums that contribute towards the just society we seek to build. This court is also expected to significantly contribute towards that, and it has three courtrooms divided as follows, One District Criminal Court, One Family/Civil Court and One Equality Court. 

This court will provide a full basket of services including child maintenance once the new magisterial districts have been proclaimed for the entire Eastern Cape Province.  I have been assured that the Department and the Judiciary are working steadfast to finalise the rationalisation of magisterial districts in this province and I will soon receive a report with recommendation in this regard.

These new courts that we are opening are modernly built with features that enable them to administer justice without hindrances. They have sophisticated security systems that when operated optimally, enhance the safety of people visiting them.

We have been informed through the Integrated Case Management System, that there are currently 122 open cases at the Bityi Magistrate Court. The cases range from murder where firearms were used to kill people even during broad daylight by heavily armed criminals.

There are also many cases of people’s homes raided at night by heavily armed criminals who forcefully dispose owners of their livestock. This has resulted in many people disposing their livestock against their wishes.

Our expectation on the Bityi Magistrate Court is to immediately address the inherent distrust by members of the community on our criminal justice system by dealing decisively with such crimes I alluded to above which are prevalent to society.

We are committed to an integrated approach in the criminal justice system which will eliminate inefficiencies and protect people against murderers and thieves who are hell-bent on undermining their right to life and economic participation. 

What will contribute to the reduction of crime in society is when criminals know that their actions will lead to arrests, convictions and harsh sentences by the courts. So, courts are efficient deterrents of crime when they administer justice correctly and fairly.

This is achieved when they reflect the highest forms of integrity and an ability to be seen as enforcers of justice with the capacity to be final arbiters of disputes within society.

The people of Bityi must trust this court that we are opening today, the trust will be earned through dedication by officials who must have the capacity to dispose complicated hearings.

The disposal rate of the court must improve, but this should not be at the detriment of the quality of decisions delivered as such will open the decisions to successful reviewal by higher courts. 

As the sixth administration, we encourage the Magistrate Commission and the Judicial Service Commission to be expeditious when engaging in the process of appointing judicial officers.

We want tenacious judicial officers who will be dedicated to the cause of justice and have a proper understanding and capacity to interpret our laws consistent with our courts’ enriched jurisprudence.

 I can mention that I have recently received recommendations from the Magistrates Commission for the filling of 210 vacancies of magistrates in the various Magistrates Courts country wide. Some of these recommendations are in respect of the courts in the Eastern Cape including in the OR Tambo District. I will be making these appointments soon.

When things fall apart in a country, the Judiciary is genuinely expected to uphold the rule of law and mete out punishment to those whose conduct erodes public confidence in institutions that are expected to deepen constitutionalism and democracy like organs of the state.

We have seen the South African Judiciary making this a lived reality by standing independently in interpreting the law, enforcing our constitution and serving as its guardian.

We will continue to create an enabling environment for courts to perform their tasks without fear and favour as we are strong advocates of their independence. We concur with observations of Justice Yvonne Mokgoro when she delivered the Kader Asmal Human Rights Award Lecture in 2015 when she said:

“Whether state or the public at large, we all have an interest in the independence, integrity and legitimacy of our courts and must, therefore, protect them and desist from creating circumstances which weaken them and place their authority in jeopardy.
If there is a point of social cohesion which has the greatest potential for institution-building with a view to nation-building, it is the respect we must show for our constitution as the foundation of our constitutional democracy where the role of our courts is central.”

In line with institution-building responsibility of the courts, there is a grey area within the legal profession that courts must help to eliminate. This is unscrupulous behavior by lawyers whose unethical conduct cascade over to communities, robbing poor victims of their livelihoods.

This behavior manifests itself through fraudulent medical claims, misrepresentation of accident victims when processing their Road Accident Fund applications, misappropriation of funds in trusts and collusion when defending the state during litigations.

We have always called upon lawyers to desist from engaging in such corrupt practice and the courts must intervene and mete out hefty punishments to those who take advantage of the poor who might not have the capacity to grasp matters that lawyers are accustomed to and should advance on their behalf.

All officials in the Bityi Magistrate Court must adopt technology and contribute to modernization efforts of the department. Our courts must practice better data and case management, and this is one of the tools that can contribute to the clearing of cases.

In Conclusion, I want to appeal to the community of Bityi not to unfairly criticize decisions of the court and engage in rhetoric that is not factual directed at presiding officers. Such rhetoric has the potential to erode trust in the court and you need to engage and exhaust avenues available before you when unhappy with certain decisions that the court might arrive at.
This court is here to serve you and it must protect widows, orphans and the vulnerable in society. All officials must exhibit behavior consistent with the caring nature of government and this will imbue trust to society on our courts.

Let justice prevail in Bityi.

I thank you.