Office of the Chief Justice Budget Vote Speech delivered by Minister T M Masutha, MP (Adv) Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, 20 April 2016
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Members of the Judiciary
Heads of Professional Law bodies;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me acknowledge, amongst our esteemed guests in the gallery, Heads of the various courts and Heads of the Magistracy and wish to thank them for making time to attend the debate.
This year’s twentieth anniversary of our Constitution presents an opportunity to take stock of the path we have traversed in realising the ideals of our Constitution.
The ANC Government continues to ably lead the complex and tedious task of transforming the judicial system and the legal system generally.
Chapter 8 of the Constitution ushers in a judicial and administration dispensation that vests judicial authority on the courts and enjoins organs of State to assist them and safeguard their independence, accessibility, and effectiveness, among others.
The amendments brought by the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment which are now imported under section 165 (6) are ground breaking. It places the responsibility for the establishment and monitoring of norms and standards for the exercise of judicial functions of all court under the Chief Justice.
It became apparent that administrative machinery that will enable the Chief Justice to carry-out this profound constitutional mandate was necessary. This came in the form of the Office of the Chief Justice which was proclaimed by Presidential decree in 2010.
The establishment of the office, like that of the Constitutional Court, is watershed. This finds reflection in the address by President Mandela when he, at the occasion of the inauguration of the Constitutional Court, stated as follows:
“It is not just a building that we inaugurate, handsome though it is. It is not a body of wise men and women that we launch on their path, important though we regard their work. It is not just our blessings that we give to their work, confident as we are in their integrity and commitment to justice. It is an institution that we establish - South Africa`s first Constitutional Court. People come and people go. Customs, fashions, and preferences change. Yet the web of fundamental rights and justice which a nation proclaims, must not be broken.”
The Office of the Chief Justice is the conduit through which the public funds are channelled for functions related to courts. Chief Justice and I are in discussion regarding an appropriate framework for conferral on matters that relate to the functioning of the courts.
At this point let me also state that Cabinet has set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee to consider the views of the Judiciary regarding the end-state of the Court Administration model. Work has commenced in this regard.
When administration of the Superior Courts was separated from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development during the 2015/16 financial year, the focus was primarily on the Superior Courts. This is so because the Superior Courts Act enacted by this august House in 2013 provides a legislative framework for this policy imperative.
We are now prioritising legislative reforms that will enable us to transfer the administration of the Magistrates Courts to the Office of the Chief Justice. This is with a view to establishing a seamless court administration system.
The initial staff complement that was transferred from the Justice Department to the Office of the Chief Justice was 1486. The establishment of the office is now around 1700. In a year this shows an increase of over 214. The appointed staff perform judicial support functions at court level and assist the structures that have been established by the Chief Justice to monitor the norms and standards.
An effective administration is fundamental to the realisation of the right of access to justice. When I presented the budget policy statement of the Department yesterday, I alluded to the expansive court infrastructure programme we are embarking on. This work includes the rollout of the local seats dispensation as part of the implementation of the Superior Courts Act. We have also taken a conscious decision to make effective use of Magistrates’ Courts as local seats of the Divisions of the High Court where infrastructure permits. This is to ensure that communities are able to get full services of a High Court closer to where they live. The Lephalale Magistrates Court in the Limpopo Province is the first to be designated as such.
ot the only vehicle for resolving disputes. It is in this context that we are promoting optimum use of Traditional Courts, and other fora such as the CMMA and the Small Claims Court. In addition there are quasi-judicial tribunals established under different laws that provide speedy, cost effective or free services for the adjudication of disputes, some of which are public and statutory and others private and even voluntary.
We have further created mechanism for non-adversarial and informal dispute resolution through Court Annexed Mediation in civil disputes and are currently looking at developing policy to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism under the office of the National Prosecuting Authority.
As I have indicated during the inaugural budget debate of the Office of the Chief Justice last year, I undertook visits to all the Superior Courts and some of the regional and district courts to appreciate conditions under which judges and magistrates work. I have made intervention where necessary to address some of the hurdles which were raised during these visits. I have now embarked on bilateral meetings with my colleagues with a view to find solutions on a range of issues that have a bearing on the courts and the justice system in general with a view to eradicate efficiency and other challenges. We will, after completing the outstanding bilateral engagements, compile a comprehensive report on the interventions that require policy and legislative interventions. I will solicit the views of the Chief Justice on this report before submission to Cabinet.
Although the Judiciary values its independence as enshrined in the Constitution, it is also alive to the reality that it is also accountable. Judicial independence and judicial accountability are in fact not mutually exclusive. Judicial accountability is essential in ensuring that our courts perform optimally without fear, favour or prejudice.
The Constitution entrenches a comprehensive accountability mechanism through the Judicial Service Commission; This finds reflection in section 177 of the Constitution where it provides that:
“A judge may be removed from office only if -
- The Judicial Service Commission finds that the judge suffers from an incapacity, is grossly incompetent or is guilty of misconduct; and
- The National Assembly calls for the judge to be removed, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members”.
One of the mechanisms that we have put in place to ensure judicial accountability is the disclosure of Judges’ financial interests. I am pleased that there is overwhelming compliance by judges in respect of the law in this regard. We will be extending the same dispensation to Magistrates in pursuit of a single judiciary.
Transformation of the Judiciary lies at the heart of our constitutional discourse. It is a constitutional imperative which the Judiciary and the Executive continue to grapple with. Indeed great strides have been made in transforming our Judiciary so as to reflect the racial and gender composition of the South African society as espoused in the Constitution. We are indeed making progress especially in the appointment of women Judges. Of the 242 Judges in active service, 86 are women and some of these Lady Justices are in leadership positions. The appointment of Madam Justice Mandisa Maya as Deputy President by the President in November 2015 is historic. She is the first women in the history of our country to occupy one of the four top leadership positions in the Judiciary.
It is also important for Honourable members to note that the number of female Judges at the Constitutional Court has also been increased to three following the appointment of Justice Mhlantla by the President in November 2015.
The number of black Judges in our Superior Courts has also increased to 156 out of the 242 Judges.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the Chief Justice and the Heads of Courts for alerting us on the fraudulent use of court orders and court stamps and for the steps they are taking in addressing this matter.
We also appreciate the effort of judicial officers in supporting the use of indigenous in the courts. We are prioritising legislative reforms to promote multilingualism in our courts.
Over the three year Medium Term Expenditure Framework period, the OCJ has been allocated a total budget of R5, 8 billion. For the 2016/17 financial year the allocated budget amounts to R1, 785 billion. Of this amount R920.057 million is allocated to Judges’ remuneration and benefits. This means that the Office of the Chief Justice will have an operating budget of R864.99 million. The budget reflects our firm commitment towards the various goals set out for ourselves and the Judiciary. We are committed to ensure that the funds allocated in this budget will be utilized in an efficient and effective manner.
Let me take this opportunity to announce the imminent retirement of Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke and the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Lex Mpati in the next two months. Both have served our Judiciary with great distinction and honour and made an indelible contribution in shaping our jurisprudence.
Let me convey our profound gratitude to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee and his entire Committee for their continued support and guidance. A special word of thanks also goes to the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa for his astute leadership of the Judiciary, the Heads of Court and all members of our Judiciary.
Please allow me to thank my two Deputy Ministers, the Honourable Thabang Makwetla and the Honourable John Jeffery, for their profound and sterling support, and my colleagues in the JCPS Cluster.
A special word of thanks goes to Secretary General for the Office of the Chief Justice, Ms Memme Sejosengwe, the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, their respective managements and the entire staff in the Justice family for their tireless efforts.I thank you.