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Address by Michael Masutha, MP (Adv), Minister of Justice and Correctional Services on the occasion of Justice Budget Vote Debate, Tuesday 19 April 2016, National Assembly, Parliament

Madam Speaker
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Heads of Courts present and Distinguished Members of the Judiciary
Director-General and her Senior Management Team
Honourable Members
Distinguished Guests
Compatriots and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is with a great sense of honour that I present to the Honourable House and South Africans budget policy statement of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

Let me convey our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the ANC supporters who died in an accident on the return from Port Elizabeth on the weekend and wish speedy recovery for the injured.

This year is significant in many ways.  We celebrate 20 years of our Constitution and the twentieth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both have played a profound role in healing our nation from its painful past and nurturing our democracy.

Twenty years on, the memories of the TRC hearings are still fresh in the minds of many South Africans.  The sacrifice of those who perished or disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the quest for freedom was not in vain. We will continue to strive for the ideals of a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.  This is an ideal that Bram Fischer whose birthday falls in this week, on 23 April, and many of our forebears fought and stood for.  Our icon, Nelson Mandela said of him: “As an Afrikaner whose conscience forced him to reject his own heritage and be ostracised by his own people, he showed a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself.  No matter what I suffered in my pursuit of freedom, I always took strength from the fact that I was fighting with and for my own people. Bram was a free man who fought against his own people to ensure the freedom of others.”

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. In this way, we will be honouring martyrs like Bram Fischer.

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.

Madam Speaker,
The ANC’s manifesto for local government elections which was launched by the Honourable President Jacob Zuma this past Saturday reiterates, amongst others, the need to return to basics, promote the informal and rural economy and reverse inequality and underdevelopment. The Manifesto, in the context of Justice and Constitutional Development, relates to a number of programmes and interventions which are the focus of my address today.

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 Presidency will give a date on which the court will be officially opened by the President as this is a significant milestone in our democracy.

We will continue to implement the rationalisation of magisterial districts and the gradual rollout of the local seats of the Divisions of the High Court. We have implemented rationalisation in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.  The rollout to the outstanding five provinces will be completed during the current MTEF cycle.  

We have received a report on the Court-Annexed Mediation and challenges identified therein are being addressed to further guide the rollout out of this access to justice initiative.  

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. 

Let me also allude to the stabilisation of the leadership of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) following the appointment of Adv Shaun Abrahams as National Director of Public Prosecutions by the President.  The NPA conviction rate has shown a remarkable 14.1 per cent overall increase.  In particular, during 2015/16, the NPA recorded 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% obtained in the previous financial year. 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 per cent.

In line with the National Development Plan, the JCPS cluster continues 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) 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 period 2011 to 2016 the SIU recovered a total of R413 million with a further potential recovery value of R1.117 billion. We continue to strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system, especially from the perspective of victims of crime. The Presidency has also announced the permanent appointment of Adv Jan Lekgoa Mothibi as the permanent Head of the SIU.  This appointment brings certainty in this important institution.  

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.

I also wish to thank the Chief Justice of alerting us on the fraudulent use court orders and court stamps, a matter which we are addressing.

Honourable Members
In my previous budget vote address I alluded to the need for radical reforms of State legal services.  We have developed a two-pronged turnaround strategy that seeks to consolidate the State’s litigation account and to strengthen the governance and accountability framework under the Solicitor-General dispensation. Through this strategy we will ensure that government attracts the best legal minds and improve its image in the manner it handles litigation.  Less that 2 percent of the total number of attorneys are employed by Government as State Attorneys.  An amount of R50 million is needed in the current financial year to increase the capacity of the State Attorney and for the implementation of the turnaround strategy.  We will repriotise our budget for this purpose.

In 2014 Parliament enacted the Legal Practice Act and only Chapter 10 thereof has come into effect. The latter Chapter establishes a National Forum on the Legal Practice to level the ground for the implementation of the entire Act. We have received a Report from the Chairperson of the Legal Forum on the Legal Profession which I will present to this Honourable House in due course.

Sixty percent of the 24 177 practicing attorneys are white and of the latter number only 9098 are female attorneys. In the advocate’s profession, of the 2641 silks 843 are Black, generic. There are only 6 Senior Council African female advocates. The Legal Practice Act provides the necessary tool to transform the face of the profession.

We continue to make significant inroads 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. Through this amendment we have introduced stringent measures to enforce maintenance recovery including black-listing of perpetual defaulters.

We continue to improve services in the Master’s office.  In 2015/16 financial year, a total of 271 984 cases were finalised by the Master of the High Court. These include deceased estates, insolvencies, the formation of trusts, and payments out of the Guardian’s fund.  We have rolled out the Paperless Estates Administration System (PEAS) to all 15 Masters’ Offices as well as approximately 96 service points.  

Job creation is one of the national priorities flowing from the NDP. 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. As of 31 March 2015 the Legal Aid South Africa had an intake of 581 candidate attorneys and 182 paralegals. The intake of candidate attorneys in the Department stands at 30. This is aimed at giving exposure to young law graduates.

Honourable Members
The budget allocation of the Department, which stands at just over R18 billion for the current financial year, enables us to make a real difference in our endeavour to ensure that every person in South Africa is and feels safe.

We welcome the budget which also includes the allocations to the Public Protector, the South African Human Rights Commission and Legal Aid South Africa.  Our support to these Chapter Nine Institutions is to ensure that they are able to perform their constitutional mandate for which they are accountable to this Honourable House.  The allocation to these institutions for the current financial year is as follows,
Public Protector – R262, 8 million.
South African Human Rights Commission – R153, 4 million

It is important to note that the budget allocation of the Public Protector has been increased by 7 percent from last year’s allocation.  The allocation will also increase by 15 in the 20017/18 financial year.  The South Africa Human Rights Commission obtained a 6% increase in the current financial year and 13 percent in the 2017/18 financial year.

An allocation of R1, 577 billion is allocated to the Legal Aid South Africa to provide access to legal aid for the indigent.

Allow me to thank the outgoing Director-General, Ms Nonkululeko Sindane who played a significant role in, among others, achieving the unqualified audit of the Departmental vote from 2012/13 to date. She contributed immensely in enhancing the governance and administration of the Department.

Let me also convey our gratitude to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for their continued support and guidance.  I thank the Chief Justice, Heads of Statutory Bodies, the Secretary-General for the Office of the Chief Justice Ms Memme Sejosengwe and their respective management teams and the entire staff in the justice family for their tireless efforts. 

Not to forget my Deputy Ministers, the Honourable John Jeffery (MP) and Honourable Thabang Makwetla (MP) for their profound support, my colleagues in the JCPS Cluster, Heads of statutory bodies for their endurance in making sure that justice continues to be dispensed to all our people who increasingly flock to the courts daily.

I thank you.