Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development,
the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Budget Vote Debate on Vote 19 (The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development), National Assembly, 19 April 2016
Deputy Speaker / Chairperson
Heads of Courts present and all other distinguished Members of the Judiciary
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are continuing with our quest to transform the justice system and its institutions in line with the National Development Plan and our Constitution.
One of our main aims is to ensure access to justice in general and in particular quality legal assistance to indigent persons.
In this regard, Legal Aid South Africa continues to go from strength to strength in assisting the poor and vulnerable with quality legal aid and legal advice services that are recognized internationally.
In the first three quarters of the 2015/16 financial year, Legal Aid South Africa took on more than 315 000 new criminal matters, more than 228 000 new civil matters and assisted nearly 12 000 children via its 154 Justice centres, satellite offices, High Court units and civil units – thereby increasing the number of persons accessing justice.
Legal Aid SA has also been named the Top Employer for the 7th Consecutive Year by the Top Employer Institute. It also received Special Recognition as a finalist in the Commission of Employment Equity and Department of Labour’s Inaugural Employment Equity Awards during 2015. It also received its 14th Consecutive Unqualified Audit by the Auditor General and it is its 10th Year of No Emphasis of Matters by the Auditor General.
The court process is dependent on a variety of role-players, one of which is the sheriff. It is a constitutional imperative that the sheriffs, like all sectors of State and society, must be transformed to reflect the demographics of South African society.
Transformation is often a prolonged journey.
Before 1994, there were 465 sheriffs nationally and the overwhelming majority were white males.
The sheriffs’ profession, like most other institutions, was fragmented with many of the sheriffs in the TBVC States and the homelands still being government employees, known as messengers of the court.
Most of the high courts and the lower courts within the same area, were served by different sheriffs, with white persons appointed to the most financially viable areas.
We are presently combining the service areas for the high and lower courts and it augers well for the profession that of the current 302 permanent sheriffs, 40% are White, 40,3% are African, 7,3% are Indian and 12,2% are Coloured. We’ve gone a substantial way in making the profession more racially representative. Gender wise we still have some way to go.
A Task Team under the able leadership of Judge Willem van der Merwe has been appointed to, amongst others, investigate and make recommendations regarding sheriffs’ areas affected by the rationalization of magisterial jurisdictional boundaries. In this regard I have received reports in respect of certain areas in the Western Cape, Gauteng, the North West, the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal. These reports are currently being considered by the Department.
The Department is currently reviewing the Sheriffs Act to also include aspects relating to the funds in the trust accounts of sheriffs.
The Judicial Matters Amendment Bill that will soon be published for public comment provides that money in the Fidelity Fund for Sheriffs may also be utilised for the payment, in deserving cases, of the costs for the enforcement of judgments of small claims courts by execution as contemplated in section 41 of the Small Claims Courts Act, 1984.
This amendment is intended to assist successful judgment creditors who are unable to afford such costs. The amendment envisages that indigent persons may be assisted in the circumstances and subject to the conditions determined by the Board in consultation with the Minister.
We will in the year ahead continue to focus on victim empowerment and improving services relating to domestic violence, harassment, child justice issues - such as widening the net of child protection against trafficking and the harmful effects of international child abduction - and in improving turnaround times in maintenance orders and payment successes.
We will further continue to promote restorative justice processes and roll out sexual offences courts.
A matter that we are confident will move our country forward is the development ofa National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. After Cabinet approval of the Draft NAP, consultations are being conducted with various key stakeholders across the country to obtain inputs towards the finalization thereof.
We need the NAP, because social cohesion is as important today as it was in 1994.
To address the scourge of hate crimes and hate speech, our Department has prepared the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.
Other important pieces of legislation on our legislative programme include the Traditional Courts Bill, the Cybercrimes and Related Matters Bill and the International Arbitration Bill.
The Traditional Courts Bill seeks to create a uniform legislative framework, regulating the role and functions of the institution of traditional leadership in the resolution of disputes, in accordance with constitutional imperatives and values.
The transformation of existing traditional courts is premised on the basis that they exist and it is a constitutional imperative that they be transformed to suit the values of our new constitutional dispensation.
In this regard, I have promoted extensive consultations between the National House of Traditional Leaders and civil society. I think I can say with confidence that these discussions are beginning to bear fruit.
The focus has been on the contentious issues which the Bill must deal and there seems to be a meeting of the minds.
Issues standing out clearly that have been discussed intensively include the participation of women as members of the courts and parties in proceedings, the right to opt out, whether there ought to be legal representation or not, the nature of these courts, the orders to be made by the courts and the enforcement of these orders, among others.
A reference group, consisting of representatives of Government, civil society and traditional leaders is in the final stages of reaching consensus on the last few remaining issues that still require attention. This reference group is scheduled to meet this Friday to do just that.
While these engagements have been on the go a Bill has been developed and encapsulates the outcome of these discussions to the extent possible.
In view of increasing threats in cyber security, the Cybercrimes and Related Matters Bill aims to review our cyber security laws to ensure that they provide a coherent and integrated cyber security legislative framework.
A lot has been said about the Bill in the media recently. There have been both positive and negative comments. I can assure this House that the comments, particularly those where concerns have been expressed, are being seriously considered.
I have therefore convened a reference group, consisting of appropriate experts, has been established and is working hard, in conjunction with the Department, to ensure that the Bill can be tabled soon in Parliament.
The International Arbitration Bill seeks to incorporate the Model Law of the United Nations Commission on international Trade Law (UNCITRAL) as the cornerstone of the international arbitration regime in South Africa. The Bill was approved by Cabinet on 13 April 2016 and will soon be introduced into Parliament. UNCITRAL provides a modern and easily adapted alternative to outdated arbitration frameworks.
This year we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our Constitution. Therefore it becomes all the more important to focus our efforts on programmes to raise human rights awareness and provide constitutional education.
Our Department has rolled out programmes to both improve knowledge and awareness of the Constitution, as well as programmes to enhance the realization of socio-economic rights.
This includes the printing and distribution of the Constitution across the country. We have also translated the Constitution into all official languages, as well as in Braille.
We are successfully using radio programmes to raise awareness of the Constitution, particularly amongst vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Last year we had the first-ever National Colloquium on Constitutional Rights Education in which a number of stakeholders from civil society had the opportunity to share their programmes and strategies of promoting human rights education and constitutional awareness.
Constitutional and human rights awareness programmes require genuine partnership between government and civil society.
We have, from the side of government, established structures to realize to this partnership, however, we sometimes find that matters are not being brought to these structures.
Noteworthy is the work being done by the National Task Team on Gender and Sexual Orientation-Based Violence Perpetrated against LGBTI Persons (“NTT”) to respond to violent crimes perpetrated in this context.
The NTT’s Rapid Response Team continues to prioritize pending and reported cases.
Structures such as the NTT are innovative ways to enable collaboration and participation of civil society in government processes. This structure is co-chaired by our DG and a member of civil society. It is the ideal platform for government and civil society to work together in partnership.
I thus want to urge civil society to make full use of these structures to highlight concerns.
All of these initiatives help to move South Africa forward. But there is still much to be done.
In closing, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Director-General, Ms Nonkululeko Sindane, for her outstanding leadership and dedication to our Department over the past 6 years.
We must use this budget to ensure that there is justice for those who have suffered injustice; freedom for those who are bound by shackles of poverty and inequality; and equality and human dignity for those who have suffered discrimination and prejudice.
With the support of this House, our Department can deliver and, together, we can move South Africa forward.
As Madiba once remarked: “It always seems impossible until it is done”.I thank you.