Speech By The Honourable John Jeffery During The Occasion Of The Debate Of The State Of The Nation Address

15 February 2010

Mr President
Deputy President
Honourable members

As we all know, the President delivered his state of the nation address on 11 February, the day on which the people of South Africa and the world were celebrating in remembrance of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison 20 years ago.

Madiba was released from prison at a time when the majority of South Africans had no hope of getting justice from the criminal and civil justice system in the apartheid society. Basically, for those who did not live through that period, or those who did but may have forgotten, judges, all of whom were white, were appointed by the State President and were almost entirely men who supported the apartheid regime. There were none of the transparent and inclusive processes that we have today with the Judicial Service Commission. The overwhelming majority of magistrates and prosecutors were white men. The laws that the criminal justice system were enforcing included crimes under the Group Areas Act, the Immorality Act, the Internal Security Act, and so on. In fact, the justice system was deliberately used to entrench apartheid policy and laws.

As this year`s January 8 statement of the African National Congress stated, "There is an urgent need to overhaul the criminal justice system, to ensure that levels of crime are drastically reduced." In order to do this, government has been embarking on a criminal justice system review. I have been informed by the co-ordinator of the criminal justice system review, the Honourable Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Jeff Radebe, who was unfortunately not able to speak in today`s debate because he`s unwell, of some of the progress made in the review to date.

It should be borne in mind, however, that many of the review outcomes can only be dealt with over a period of time and have cross-cutting implications that need to be considered, in terms of aligned budgets and strategic planning processes. This work is continuing and includes the establishment of sound governance through the continued development of protocols, joint business and operational plans and improved co-ordinating mechanisms.

Let me highlight some of the progress made in terms of the criminal justice system review. The review process, as mandated by Cabinet, comprises research and implementation of required interventions through a seven-point plan. The research process is now being concluded, and the results have been evaluated and are currently being incorporated in the implementation.

Some of the progress relating to the implementation of the plan is the following. A holistic vision, mission and objective statement for the criminal justice system was developed and promoted within the justice, crime prevention, and security cluster of Cabinet and approved by the relevant Ministers and directors-general. A framework for the criminal justice system performance measurement has been developed and is presently being refined. This aims to ensure that all the various activities across the criminal justice system have common goals and targets, from the SAPS through to the prosecutors, to the courts and correctional services.

A centre for statistics and performance management is in the process of being established to collate all the relevant information across the criminal justice system. An interim system, based upon existing automated and manual systems is, however, functional. A number of protocols and, or, guidelines that will improve the performance of the courts have been developed or are being finalised. There are two regional court protocols, one dealing with screening mechanisms and the trial readiness of cases, and the other dealing with making the trial phase more efficient, such as limiting dispute issues, improving case scheduling, etc., as well as a court protocol for legal aid cases, dealing with improved pretrial and co-ordination aspects between the prosecuting authority and Legal Aid South Africa, to speed up the finalisation of cases.

Case-flow management interventions are being promoted across the criminal justice system in general. Regulations for the implementation of the amendments applicable to the admission of guilt for minor offences, in terms of the Judicial Matters Amendment Act, Act 66 of 2008, are receiving attention. A protocol for the taking and processing of forensic samples, utilising chemistry laboratories of the national Department of Health in criminal investigations and trials and improving the interaction between the prosecutors, Police and Department of Health is being finalised. Then, the issue of bail and addressing the challenges relating to bail is receiving attention.

The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill is currently before this House and, hopefully, will be finalised shortly. This Bill deals, amongst others, with DNA, fingerprinting and biometric issues including the sharing of personal information between government departments.

The capacity of the criminal justice system is being increased through the employment of more personnel. In this regard, the Police have increased the number of crime scene detectives and forensic analysts. Nearly 15 000 new constables have been allocated to the detective services after training in the current financial year. The National Prosecuting Authority has increased the number of prosecutors, and Legal Aid South Africa has increased the number of legal aid representatives. More judges and magistrates have been appointed, and operational efficiencies are being further enhanced by the provision of step by step field guides and manuals. The establishment of a branch within the Department of Correctional Services, to improve the management of remand detainees is being fast-tracked and improved offender rehabilitation, in conjunction with civil society, is also receiving attention.

Moving then on to the transformation of the judiciary, this is well under way. The racial and gender composition of judges and magistrates is far more reflective of the demographics of our country than ever before. Recent laws passed by Parliament are in the final stages of implementation. The South African Judicial Education Institution Act, which establishes the SA Judicial Education Institute for the training of magistrates and judges, will be fully operational from April 2010.

I am informed that the recent amendments to the Judicial Service Commission Act are due for promulgation during the first half of this year. These amendments provide for a code of conduct and regulations regarding judges` registerable interests. In terms of this Act, the regulations and code must be tabled within four months of promulgation, so hopefully that should be settled before the end of this year. Lastly, regarding the transformation of the judiciary, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development is finalising the Superior Courts Bill for introduction into this House, after considering the report of a judges conference held last year.

We, however, need to review not just the criminal justice system but also the civil justice system. We cannot have a situation where, to get justice in civil disputes, you need to lots of money for lawyers, as this puts civil justice out of the reach of the vast majority of people in South Africa. The fact that our civil justice system is expensive, complex, fragmented and very much adversarial makes it more inaccessible to the ordinary masses of our people.

However, we note that work is being done to ensure that the Small Claims Courts, as per one of the resolutions of the 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress at Polokwane, play a significant role in delivering justice to the people. We commend this because of the accessibility of these courts. Ordinary people do not have to pay money to have their matters heard, and we hope to see more of these courts being set up throughout the country.

With regard to the administration of deceased estates and related services, people, especially ordinary people, are still experiencing problems. The fact that some Master`s Offices, including the one in Cape Town, insist that you get an attorney, even in uncomplicated estates, is something that needs to be changed. As the Receiver of Revenue helps the public with their tax returns, so should the Master`s Office help the public with winding up deceased estates.

More attention needs to be given to assist in particular women with maintenance matters, so that where a rich father refuses to pay maintenance, he cannot use lawyers to endlessly dispute and delay the finalisation of the matter. Maintenance Courts needs to be more user friendly and should be able to assist women without them being forced to spend large amounts of money on lawyers.

We also need to look at accelerating the extension of legal aid to more civil cases. We are pleased that the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act will be promulgated this year. This Act abolishes black divorce courts and extends civil jurisdiction to Regional Courts, which had previously only dealt with criminal matters.

We hope that Parliament can finalise the Traditional Courts Bill, which is currently before us this year and provide for a system that is consistent with the values espoused in our Constitution and that gives people in rural areas more effective access to justice.

In conclusion, let me say that crime is one of the major challenges facing our country. Crime undermines the safety and security of the people in their homes and places of work and entertainment, thereby denying them the freedom for which they fought for many years. We, therefore, welcome the reforms being brought about by the review of the criminal system to make it more effective and efficient, and we, as Parliament, must work together to monitor and improve its implementation.

However, the weaknesses in the criminal justice system deny the masses of ordinary people of South Africa access to justice, as well. For this reason, we need to work together as a country to ensure that the whole justice system is revamped and improved to deliver justice to our people, especially those who have been denied justice for many decades. For this reason, we request you, Mr President, to ensure that your administration moves with speed to review the civil justice system, as this will remove blockages and improve efficiency and effectiveness, service delivery and public confidence our justice system.

I thank you!