Cape Town - An extensive redrawing of court jurisdictional boundaries will get under way shortly in an effort to broaden access to justice and court services, it emerged in a briefing on Tuesday’s justice budget vote.
The re-demarcation exercise is necessary as courts still operate in pre-1994 districts. For example, this means residents of Marikana are not served by the nearby Rustenburg court but a former Bophuthatswana homeland court 150km away.
“It’s an integration of various imperatives in order to create an efficient criminal justice system,” Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said.
The re-demarcation process is expected to kick off in Gauteng and the North West, following consultations with the judiciary and other interested parties like police and correctional services, according to a senior justice official. It will be completed in three years.
It is one of the delivery-orientated measures arising from the justice budget vote, including R100 million allocated for the opening of 12 more dedicated sexual offences courts, in addition to the existing 22 such courts, and steps to establish a further 30 small claims courts. Mpumalanga and Limpopo will get their first high courts by 2016.
About R150m will go to the office of the chief justice, who heads the judiciary. It is likely to be the last such allocation amid consultations with the Treasury to give the office a separate budget from next year. This is part of the steps being taken to fully delink the office from the justice department.
An amount of R6.1 billion - the majority of the total justice budget of R17.9bn - will go towards court services, where the justice department claimed successes in dealing with case backlogs. At the end of June case backlogs stood at 30 618, about 4 000 down from the previous year.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) gets R3.2bn, and R2.1bn is shared by the Chapter 9 institutions for which justice is responsible, like the SA Human Rights Commission, public protector and Commission on Gender Equality.
However, the justice budget vote debate took place under the shadow of ructions in the NPA and renewed questions over how Public Protector Thuli Madonsela exercises her mandate.
In the wake of the controversy over prosecutions boss Mxolisi Nxasana - an inquiry into his fitness for office is expected to get under way soon - Masutha on Tuesday moved pre-emptively: “I want to assure South Africans that there are effective institutional arrangements in place to ensure that the work of the NPA is not affected by the inquiry relating to the national director of public prosecutions...”
But DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach raised the spectre of potential political interference in the prosecutions authority in her prepared speech for the debate. The NPA “is an institution that should have no dirty linen to wash, let alone to be washed in public”, she said, calling for the inquiry into the prosecutions boss to be extended to other senior NPA managers.
Breytenbach also spoke of how the public protector was “vilified” in some circles and accused of overreaching her mandate because she refused to bow to political pressure.
However, during the budget vote briefing both Masutha and Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery suggested the public protector look at collaborations in cases that could also be dealt with by other institutions such as the Public Service Commission, SA Human Rights Commission or even constituency offices when it came to social grants.
The comments came in response to a question on Madonsela’s plea last week to the justice committee for more financial resources.
Emphasising that the budget for the public protector had risen significantly - it received R199m last year, up from R114m the year before - Jeffery said everyone wanted more money.