Administration of justice

Role of the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development
State Legal Services
Master of the High Court
Court Performance

 

The Department of Justice & Constitutional Development

In line with the National Development Plan (NDP), government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework 2014 – 2019 places the onus on the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to implement practical, short and medium-term measures to address backlogs in court cases and improve the all-round performance of the courts over the medium term.

The department’s spending over the medium term will thus be focused on improving physical access to courts, including the rationalisation of magisterial districts and the alignment of the jurisdiction of magistrates’ courts, and on improving services in courts.

The department also supports the NDP’s vision of building a capable state, and to this end it will be re-engineering state legal services.

The DoJ&CD’s plays a major and direct role in implementing the “safety for all” mandate of the NDP, which deals with the following, among other things:

  • building safer communities
  • promoting accountability and fighting corruption
  • focusing on social protection matters
  • focusing on transforming society and uniting the country.

Also included in the scope of the responsibilities of the DoJ&CD is the Seven-Point Plan of the criminal justice review, which involves making substantial changes to court processes in criminal and civil matters through short and medium term proposals.

The department has put targets in place to address areas that would improve court processes, including improving the usage of audiovisual remand systems, implementing improved court
record systems, and decreasing the rate of court postponements due to administrative staff issues.

As one of the deliverables of the Seven-Point Plan, an integrated and seamless national criminal justice information system containing all relevant performance information is under development.

The system improvements that need to be put in place for the department to fully align with the CJS requirements are included in this plan.

In line with Chapter 13 and Chapter 14 of the NDP, the department has also included targets that cover departmental interventions regarding human capital development and targets to mitigate fraud and corruption, which include fraud and corruption awareness sessions and finalising the process of reviewing the Protected Disclosures Act, 2000 (Act 26 of 2000).

Budget and funding

The department’s budget allocation for the 2017/18 financial year was R18.8 billion.

The number of posts is expected to be 27 374 at most in 2018/19. The DoJ&CD received increases in compensation of employees of R208 million in 2016/17, R543 million in 2017/18 and R669 million in 2018/19 towards the costs of the 2015 public sector wage agreement.

However, Cabinet approved budget reductions in compensation of employees of R429 million in 2017/18 and R671 million in 2018/19 as part of its decision to lower the national aggregate expenditure ceiling.

After consultation with the Department of Public Service and Administration and National Treasury, the department will develop and implement a plan to manage its personnel expenditure within its reduced personnel budget.

State Legal Services

The purpose of this programme is to provide legal and legislative services to government, supervise the administration of deceased and insolvent estates and the Guardians' Fund, prepare and promote legislation and undertake research in support of this.

This programme is mainly aimed at transforming justice, the State and society. It deals with the following functions:

  • constitutional development
  • legislative development (including conducting legal research)
  • the provision of legal advisory services to other organs of State (including Parliament)
  • providing litigation services to protect the organs of State
  • the provision of probate services
  • administration of the Guardian’s Fund
  • regulation of insolvency and liquidation systems.

The State Legal Services Programme’s objectives include:

  • improving service delivery at the Master’s Office service points
  • increasing efficiency in the provision of services to beneficiaries of the Guardian’s Fund, trusts, and insolvent and deceased estates
  • promoting constitutional development and the strengthening of participatory democracy to ensure respect for fundamental human rights
  • improving the provision of legal services to State organs
  • improving the policy and legislative framework for the effective and efficient delivery of justice services.

The State Legal Services Programme is divided into the following subprogrammes:

  • Legislative Development, the Law Reform Commission and the Rules Boards for Courts of Law prepare and promote legislation, conduct research and administer the Constitution.
  • The Master of the High Court funds the Masters’ Offices, which supervise the administration of deceased and insolvent estates, trusts, curatorships and the Guardian’s Fund.
  • Litigation and Legal Services provides attorney, conveyance and notary public services to the executive, all State departments, parastatals and other government bodies through the Office of the State Attorney, and provides legal support to the department and the ministry.
  • State Law Advisers provides legal advisory services to the executive, all State departments, parastatals and autonomous government bodies.

Master of the High Court

The Master of the High Court serves the public in respect of:

  • deceased estates
  • liquidations (insolvent estates)
  • registration of trusts’, tutors’ and curators’ administration of the Guardians' Fund (minors and people with mental disabilities).

The Master’s Office has five main divisions, which are all aimed at protecting the financial interests of people whose assets or interests are, for various reasons, managed by others.

The Paperless Estates Administration System (PEAS), which computerises the administration process related to deceased estates, enables people to deal with deceased estates in both the offices of the Master of the High Court and the magistrates’ courts.

This system has been implemented to expand access to justice services and to enable the processing of small estates at the nearest magistrate’s court as opposed to the 15 offices of the Master of the High Court, thus bringing justice services closer to the people.

The number of magistrates’ courts implementing the PEAS was increased from 206 in 2016/17 to 237 in 2017/18.

In addition to the 15 Master of the High Court offices countrywide, 237 magistrates’ courts handled deceased estate matters on behalf of the Master of the High Court. This brought the services of the Master of the High Court closer to the people, particularly those in remote areas

Court performance

This subbranch of the DoJ&CD is responsible for:

  • developing and monitoring processes and systems
  • introducing case-flow management that facilitates efficient and effective court and case management
  • developing and facilitating the implementation of a court-management policy framework
  • evaluating the quality of services and performance within the courts
  • facilitating the development of uniform performance standards to enhance institutional performance.

The Directorate: Court Efficiency’s key priorities include:

  • facilitating integrated case-flow management with stakeholders
  • supporting the implementation of the Re Aga Boswa (meaning “We are Renewing”) and court capacitation projects
  • facilitating the implementation of multilingualism in courts and developing indigenous languages in line with constitutional imperatives
  • facilitating the securing of standardised transcription services for courts across all regions
  • rendering case-management business intelligence support to information system management in the development of ICT tools and systems
  • supporting initiatives for the effective management of court records.

The directorate assists in court capacitation initiatives, namely:

  • the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Court Integrity Project
  • upgrading five pilot courts, namely Pretoria, Tembisa, Nelspruit, Mkobola and Kimberley with notice boards, flat-screen television sets and DVD players
  • providing integrity training to 120 departmental, 15 NPA and 15 judicial officers
  • conducting audits on the management of court records
  • facilitating activities on the Court Capacitation National Centre for State Courts Project in consultation with all other stakeholders such as chief directors and regional heads
  • engaging human resources and the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority and securing learnership programmes for court interpreters
  • engaging in legislation development and finalising the legislative and operational framework for implementing and institutionalising the lay assessor system.

Integrated Case-Flow Management Framework

The DoJ&CD and participants from other partner organisations is developing an enhanced version of case-flow management in the court environment.

To eradicate case-flow blockages workable solutions were adopted. These include:

• continuous cooperation of stakeholders to implement and maintain case-flow management at all courts
• establishing judicial leadership and case-flow management buy-in processes in the lower and higher courts in the form of case-flow management forums
• facilitating and monitoring the creation of case-flow management governance structures to sustain productivity in the courts’ environment
• maintaining case-flow management.

Systems that support case-flow management in the courts include the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS). This system spans all disciplines of cases administered in the justice environment.

The ICMS draws on several core modules to perform basic functions such as information warehousing, case numbering and document scanning. The specific functionality for each court and office are then built on these foundations.

The further development of the ICMS Masters System aims to create a Paperless Estate Administration System for the Master’s Office. This system will computerise the administration process in deceased estates, as all documentation will be scanned and stored electronically.

The DoJ&CD’s aim over the medium term is to increase the percentage of new deceased estates registered on the paperless estate administration system from 95% in 2016/17 to 100% in 2019/20.

Audio-Visual Remand System

The Audio-visual Remand (AVR) project links magistrates’ courts to correctional detention centres via closedcircuit television (CCTV).

With this system, the accused person is not required to be physically brought before the court, but may appear before the court via an audio-visual link, unless the court, in the interests of justice, directs that he or she be physically brought before it.

The business benefit of using such technology has been reflected in the reduction of case delays and detentions to minimum periods. This initiative is continuously monitored and an investment was made to replace the obsolete equipment.

In the 2017/18 financial year, 48 magistrates’ courts were linked to 23 correctional facilities and 17 271 criminal cases were remanded using this technology. This represents a 44% increase in the use of this technology.

Case-Reduction Backlog Project

The JCPS Cluster departments have introduced the case backlog reduction intervention, which reducing the number of backlog cases in the regional and district courts, providing additional capacity to the backlog priority sites. The backlog intervention ensures that the inflow of the number of new cases is balanced by the number of matters concluded. The project deliverables have been integrated into the outputs of the JCPS Cluster Delivery Agreement.

The department provided resources in the form of infrastructure, court personnel, the judiciary, magistrates and budget in support of the prosecution and judiciary to remove these cases from the backlog roll.