Masutha: Transforming and broadening access to the justice system

20 Apr 2016

Media statement by Michael Masutha, MP (Adv), Minister of Justice and Correctional Services on the occasion of Justice Budget Vote Debate, Tuesday 19 April 2016, GCIS Imbizo Centre, Parliament

19 April 2016

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

This year we celebrate the 20th anniversaries of the Constitution and the commencement of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. These key developments in our democracy have played a profound role in healing our nation from its painful past and nurturing non-racial and human rights based society.

When President Mandela signed the Constitution into law in Sharpeville on 10 December 1996, he set us on a path to build a society that respects constitutional rights, thereby marking a break from a past characterised by racial oppression, intolerance and discrimination by a minority against a majority in our society. We have since made considerable progress in building a tolerant and human rights society.

In this spirit, we must all rise to deal with all forms of intolerances to consolidate our democracy. As a department, we will soon introduce legislation which will address racism and in particular, hate speech. We have also developed and released with Cabinet’s approval the draft National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Xenophobia and related intolerances for public comment. Many sectors of society are already coming forward to share their views on the draft NAP. We encourage all South Africans to make their inputs to the draft NAP by 30 June 2016. In addition we are currently expanding the provisions of the draft Bill to establish hate crimes to include hate speech which will be introduced in parliament later this year. This will help bolster existing legislative measures notably under the promotion of equality and prevention of unfair n discrimination Act and other related laws.

These are amongst the concrete measures we are embarking upon to give expression to the President’s call during his State of the Nation Address for the nation to focus its human rights promotion efforts this year towards the fight against racism.

At the commencement of the current administration and in response to the mandate espoused in the NDP and the policies of the ruling party to turn South Africa into a safe haven where all are and feel safe, we have committed ourselves to have at the centre of our efforts the restoration of public confidence in the justice system. These includes ensuring that the public appreciates and are therefore able to participate fully in the justice system and feel protected and supported by it whether in criminal or civil proceedings.

Last year, I referred to default judgements and emoluments attachments orders or garnishee orders as they are often called, which are prone to abuse by unscrupulous debts collectors and creditors. The Courts of Law Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Magistrates’ Court Act of 1944 in order to address abuses in the emoluments attachment order (EAO) system and to amend the Superior Court Amendment Act, 2013, so as to provide the rescission of judgements with the consent of the judgement creditor in the high court. In the main, the amendment is intended to alleviate the plight of debtors who find themselves at the receiving ends of abuses in the debt collecting system in our magistrates’ courts.

We are encouraged by the success of our criminal justice system in dealing with crime and corruption. The NPA conviction rate has shown a remarkable 14.1 per cent overall increase. In particular, during 2015/16, the NPA recorded an 82 per cent conviction rate in trio crimes, 88 percent in organised crime and 94 per cent in complex commercial crimes. In respect of sexual offences, the conviction rate stands at 70 percent, an increase of 6 per cent from the 64 per cent obtained in the previous financial year. The fight against sexual violence on our streets and in our homes has been intensified with the re-introduction of the Sexual Offenses Courts in August 2013. Since then, we have upgraded 46 regional courts into sexual offences courtrooms. These courts are specially designed for the delicate handling of sexual offences through the use of technologies, intermediaries and appropriate court environment for dealing with sexual offences.

The overall improvement in the justice system can also be attributed to the aggressive stance adopted by our judiciary, prosecution and law enforcement as demonstrated by the 28 life sentences and 538 years imprisonment recently imposed on serial rapist Peter Khoza. Performance in the lower courts has been enhanced by utilizing the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (ADRM) which swiftly settles disputes through arbitration and mediation. In 2015/16, a total of 152 743 cases were finalised through ADRM, exceeding the set target by 9 percent. We are currently working with the NPA to refine the system to ensure that it is fair and just, not only to the accused but equally to the victim as well.

In order to broaden access to justice, we are steadily implementing our court infrastructure programme. In this regard, I am pleased to report that the Limpopo High Court which was built at a cost of R1, 1 billion commenced operation from 25 January 2016. The Mpumalanga High Court and 3 Magistrates Courts in Dimbaza, Mamelodi and Port Shepstone will be completed in the current financial year.

Further to this, we have aligned the jurisdiction of magisterial districts with municipal boundaries in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. This programme ensures that our people access justice services closer to their communities. The rollout to the outstanding five provinces will take place in the current Medium Term Expenditure Framework.

We have also, during the past year, piloted the Court-Annexed Mediation programme to allow more people to access justice speedily and in a cost effective manner.

We are prioritising the amendment of the Magistrate’s Court Act to address the utilisation of all official languages in court proceedings. Concurrently, we are improving the quality of interpreters for both foreign and local languages.

One of the key pieces of legislation that we will be prioritising this year is the finalisation of the Traditional Courts Bill. We are working with representatives from traditional leadership and civil society to take this process forward, with a view to introducing the Bill in June 2016.
We are nearing our target to establish a Small Claims Court in all magisterial districts. In 1994 there were 120 Small Claims Courts which were deliberately located in mainly white and urban areas. To date, our department has established 371 Small Claims Courts and will prioritise the remaining 32 courts in the current financial year.

More people, in particular the indigent, are increasingly receiving free legal assistance and advice through the Legal Aid South Africa. In the first three quarters of the 2015/2016 financial year, the Legal Aid South Africa took on 315 138 new criminal matters and 228 905 new civil matters and assisted 11 781 children via its Justice Centres and 64 satellite offices.

Our department continue to make progress in the protection of children’s rights, especially with regards to maintenance. In 2015, the Maintenance Amendment Act was enacted to intensify our efforts of ensuring that every child receives the appropriate parental care, basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services, education, and other related support. We have introduced stringent measures to enforce maintenance recovery including black-listing of perpetual defaulters. The legislation further introduces interim relief whereby children will be able to receive maintenance whilst an application is under consideration.

We are improving our services in the Master’s office through the automation of our services and we will continue to improve the efficiency of the system to ensure better quality of services to our people.

Together with our colleagues in the JCPS cluster we continue to implement measures to decisively deal with cases of corruption. In 2015/16, 163 government officials were convicted of corruption-related offences.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) continues to ensure that criminals do not benefit from the proceeds of crime. In this regard, the AFU obtained 483 forfeiture orders to the value of R372 million. Recoveries totalling R356.9 million were obtained in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act which is 166 percent higher than the target of R134 million.

In the ethos of our Constitution, we also accept that a great deal of transformation must take place in the justice sector broadly. To this effect, I will be outlining the initiatives of the department aimed at transforming State legal services and consolidating the State litigation account. In this regard, we will be pursuing the establishment of the Solicitor-General dispensation. We are also forging ahead with initiatives to transform the legal profession through the National Legal Forum.

Transformation initiatives are also firmly afoot in the Sherriff’s profession. In January this year, we appointed 30 Sheriffs, of whom 43 % of new appointees are women and 57% are African.

On youth empowerment, last year I indicated that the Department would be initiating youth development opportunities. Through our partnership with Safety and Security, Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA), the department has appointed 800 interns in the 2015/2016 financial year. Between February 2010 and February 2015 the NPA has recruited 814 aspirant prosecutors. The Legal Aid South Africa has appointed 581 candidate attorneys and 182 paralegals.

The R18 billion budget that we have been allocated includes the following transfers: R1, 577 billion to Legal Aid South Africa, R262, 8 million to the Public Protector and R153, 4 million to the South African Human Rights Commission. We are confident that the allocated budget of R18 billion in 2016/17 will assist us in expanding access to justice and creating efficiencies in our service.

In conclusion, allow me to thank the outgoing Director-General, Ms Nonkululeko Sindane who contributed immensely in enhancing the governance and administration of the Department.

I thank you.

Issued by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development
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