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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a Joint Policy Debate on the Department of Correctional Services (Vote 22) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (Vote 25), National Council of Provinces, 1 June 2023

Honourable Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP,
Minister Ronald Lamola,
Deputy Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa,
Chairperson and Members of the Select Committee,
Honourable Members,

As we stand at the beginning of Youth Month, I want to honour the Class of ’76 and also to remind the youth of today of the enormous sacrifices that were made in order for us to live in a free and democratic South Africa.

May we always live up to those ideals which the Class of ’76 would have expected from us.

As the NCOP represents provincial interests in the national sphere of government I will highlight our Department’s inputs from a provincial point of view.

Our small claims courts have been one of our justice success stories. When the Small Claims Courts Act commenced in 1985 the value of the monetary jurisdiction was R1000.   Today, the value of the monetary jurisdiction is, with effect from 1 April 2019, standing at R20 000.

In 1985 there were only seven courts and these were established in Durban, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Rustenburg and Springs.

By 1994 there were 120 Small Claims Courts in South Africa, but these were mostly in white and urban areas.

Today, we have 415 Small Claims Courts around the country. Each magisterial district court now has a small claims court.

In the Eastern Cape there are 79 Small Claims Courts, in the Free State 62, in Gauteng 35, in KwaZulu-Natal 57, in Limpopo 39, in Mpumalanga 33, in the Northern Cape 34, in North West 31 and in the Western Cape 45.

What makes our small claims courts so successful?  The most positive aspect of small claims courts, I believe, lies in the fact that it levels the playing the field.

If there is one court where the parties are truly equal before the law, it is the small claims court. It doesn’t matter if one party to a dispute is unable to afford a lawyer, because the parties represent themselves. And if a person doesn’t know how to go about the process, the clerk of the court is there to assist.

Countrywide we currently have 2063 Commissioners and 2080 advisory board members.

I want to thank these Commissioners and advisory boards – without them our Small Claims Court would not exist.  They do their work on a voluntary basis without remuneration.

Although the name of these courts refer to “small” there is, in fact, nothing “small” about the matters they hear. And the value of the claims people take to these courts have a significant effect on their lives.

By way of example, from April to December last year, a total of 22 682 cases were disposed of in our Small Claims Courts totaling R153,6 million.

The value of the claims, if one totals them per province amount to, in the Eastern Cape R13 million; in the Free State R5,29 million; in Gauteng R40,8 million; in KwaZulu-Natal R21,2 million; in Limpopo R20, 8 million, in Mpumalanga R9,7 million, in North West R12,7 million, in the Northern Cape R2,28 million and in the Western Cape R27,7 million.

The Soweto SCC disposed of highest number of cases, followed by Wynberg (WC), Hillbrow (GP), Ganyesa (NW) and Randburg (GP).
The average time spent on the small claim matters reflects the compliance of regions which is measured against the number of matters finalized.

Out of 22 682 cases disposed of 84.0% (19 048 cases) were finalized within 120 days as per the stipulation of Departmental Norms and Standard.  The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal regions achieved 88.4% and 88.0% of the compliance rate respectively.

It is also vital that our small claims courts keep up with the times and with modern developments and the needs of society.  Therefore new Rules for the Small Claims Courts came into operation on 1 April 2023. 

In addition, the Codified Instructions for Clerks of the Small Claims Courts were amended. 

The appointment details were, for the first time, included in the Code.  This provides the contact details of Clerks of the Courts and Commissioners in case a magisterial district needs to use a Commissioner from a neighbouring district.

We have also developed a Guide intended to highlight those changes made by the new Small Claims Court Rules which provide for new procedures, require new forms to be used or for new responsibilities being placed on clerks and functionaries of the Small Claims Courts.

It is of utmost importance that the Provincial Offices and court staff provide the necessary support to these courts as many of them sit after the normal court hours.

The Department is undertaking a review of the Small Claims Courts system to determine how they are improving access to justice, whether greater monetary jurisdiction would assist in improving access as well as to overhaul legislative and procedural provisions to reflect the current needs of the system.  The Review Report is to be submitted to the Minister by March next year.

With the three recently passed three GBV Amendment Acts, which are now all in effect, new interventions have been in place to support GBV survivors.

During 2022/2023 financial year, we prioritized the development of the Online Web Portal for Applications for Domestic Violence Protection Orders.

Recently, our senior managers attended an online meeting where the online Domestic Violence applications were being demonstrated. The meeting was attended by different stakeholders such as private attorneys, prosecutors, sheriffs, members of NGOs and departmental staff. It is envisaged that more of these presentations will most likely be held as the system is perfected.

Once these protection orders can be done online, it will make an enormous difference to the lives of those who are facing domestic violence and abuse.

They will be able to apply for a protection order without having to leave their homes, without having to travel. This is supported by a provision in the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill currently before the National Assembly that the effect of which will be that applicants do not have to make affidavits to submit an application for a protection order.

We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that all the provinces will be ready to roll out the online portal pilot sites.

This week is also Child Protection Week. As many would know, last year we raised minimum age of criminal capacity from 10 years to 12 years.

In order to ensure that child justice proceedings against children in conflict with the law is prioritised and finalised without unreasonable delay, the Department has set a quarterly target of 92% of the child justice preliminary inquiries finalised within 90 days after the date of first appearance.  Last year the target was 90% and the Department recorded an over achievement of 94% performance.

This is one way of showing our commitment to the establishment of a child justice system that is fast, child-centric and based on a child’s best interest, as required by section 28 of the Constitution.

Honourable Members
American abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, once said, and I quote –
Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril.”
These words are still relevant today as we fight the crime of trafficking in persons and our anti-trafficking in persons initiatives are indeed bearing fruit.   South Africa is investigating, we are prosecuting and our courts are not hesitating to impose heavy sentences for TIP cases.

We often hear that South Africa is a source, transit and destination country for TIP. I therefore also want to share with you some of our findings in this regard.  

With regards to South Africa as country of destination, 16 countries reported in the 2022 US TIP Tier Report to have had nationals either exploited in South Africa and/or have rescued victims of trafficking en route to South Africa. In most cases victims were lured with false promises of employment or for sexual or labour exploitation.

With regards to South Africa as country of origin, only 2 countries, both in the SADC region, reported to have rescued South African nationals who were exploited in their country, namely Angola and Namibia.

With regards to South Africa as country of transit, only one country reported to have had a national rescued that was in transit in South Africa and that was a Cambodian victim of trafficking who escaped a fishing vessel in South Africa.

Human trafficking is a transnational crime which is closely linked to other crimes. Therefore to strengthen our anti-TIP efforts, we are in the process of revising the National Policy Framework against Trafficking in Persons in terms of section 40(2)(c) of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act. Once we have Cabinet approval, the revised NPF will be tabled in Parliament.

The NPF will ensure that all government departments and other stakeholders from civil society are collectively guided in the implementation of anti-trafficking responses.

It further supports the implementation of the TIP Act, to ensure that the criminal justice system is effective in prosecuting the offenders, while protecting the victims of human trafficking.

In conclusion,
Making our justice system work requires the continued commitment and dedication of many different stakeholders. I also want to thank the Members of the Select Committee for their ongoing support.
From the side of the Department access to justice and the delivery of quality justice services remain an absolute priority.
I thank you.