Budget cuts will slow wheels of justice

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has outlined the impact of budget cuts on programmes run by the Department of Justice.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has outlined the impact of budget cuts on programmes run by the Department of Justice.

Published Mar 19, 2024


Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has outlined the impact of budget cuts on programmes run by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development as well as other institutions reporting to him.

Lamola said the cuts would affect administration of the courts, the handling of complex cases by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and investigations carried out by the Special Investigating Unit, among others.

“The budget cuts are expected to impact the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development substantially,” Lamola said in response to a parliamentary question from IFP MP Themba Msimang.

According to National Treasury’s budget review document, the Cabinet has approved slashing the funds available to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development by R5 billion over the next three years.

“Total expenditure is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 4.7%, from R23 billion in 2023/24 to R26.3 billion in 2026/27. This is due to additional allocations for compensation of employees (R4.2 billion) to cater for the carry-through cost of the 2023/24 public sector wage agreement,” Lamola said.

It also detailed the main impact of the reductions on the department’s goods and services budget and transfers to public entities.

“To ensure that critical front-line services are not negatively affected, strict cost-containment measures will be implemented on travel and subsistence, communication, catering, conferences, workshops and other non-essential goods and services items that have not yet been contracted.

“Public entities are expected to use retained surplus funds to augment transfer payments.”

Lamola said the cuts would obstruct the expansion of specialised courts for commercial crimes and impede the full implementation of gender-based violence legislation.

“A significant increase in case backlogs is anticipated, with an estimated additional 150 000 cases. The delays in processing maintenance cases and administering estates will negatively impact beneficiaries dependent on these funds,” he said.

Lamola said the State Attorney’s capacity to settle cases and reduce contingent liabilities would be hindered, leading to potential losses in litigation and increased state expenditure.

“Efforts to overhaul the civil justice system and reform legal services will be significantly impeded, potentially undermining the efficacy and reliability of state litigation and legal services.”

The minister added that the NPA’s progress in handling complex prosecutions, particularly those involving state capture, would be severely disrupted.

The impediment would mean limitations on the provision of protection services for prosecutors as well as the closure of a training programme for the next generation of prosecutors.

Lamola also said they expected the cuts to impact the expansion of Thuthuzela Care Centres, introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape and GBV strategy, which aim to reduce secondary victimisation, improve conviction rates and reduce the time taken to finalise cases.

Referring to the SIU, he said the cuts would preclude the unit from increasing its staff complement to address a growing number of investigations.

This could damage its reputation and hinder its ability to achieve strategic goals, such as improved investigation times, data analytics for corruption cases, accelerated civil litigation and digital transformation, he said.

Lamola added that Legal Aid SA was likely not to be able to serve the same number of courts it had previously, and would not be able to take on as many civil cases as it had before, owing to a shortage of practitioners.

“This will lead to a strained staff complement due to higher case loads, increased service complaints and a significant rise in court backlogs.”

He said the budget cuts would significantly constrain the department’s technological operations and infrastructure.

“Essential system maintenance and the progress achieved with a new data centre are at risk. Planned ICT upgrades and the deployment of the court audio visual system are likely to be delayed, forcing continued reliance on outdated equipment,” he said about the impact of the cuts on the department’s modernisation programme.

“The department must keep pace with rapid technological changes, which necessitates substantial financial investment.”

Cape Times