Commercial courts saddled with 67% backlog in cases
Cape Town - The Special Commercial Crime Court is saddled with 67% backlogs in outstanding cases which date to more than nine months since their enrolment.
This was revealed by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola when he was responding to parliamentary questions from DA MP Werner Horn.
In his response, Lamola said the statistics kept by the National Prosecuting Authority in the Special Commercial Crimes Unit, the number of outstanding cases in all special commercial crimes courts stood at 1 675 with 1117 backlogs as at the end of January.
“These are cases which are on the roll for more than nine months since enrolment. This means that backlog cases stand at 67%,” Lamola said.
He also said the special commercial crimes courts in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape contributed to the highest backlogs.
In the 2019/20 annual report, the department said it continued to monitor the reduction of case backlogs in the lower courts and provided support to improve court efficiency and effectiveness.
“Work has been going on within the Integrated Justice System structures to develop and implement digital or electronic measures which seek to modernise court processes and thereby limit and resolve blockages that may occur.
“However, resources and budget constraints hamper the department’s ability to fully implement all the measures that are required for a rapid and dramatic reduction of case backlogs.”
The department said it has sought to address the increasing number of backlog cases, both historical and those caused by the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, by developing a draft national integrated criminal case backlog management plan in collaboration with all stakeholders.
“The department has also engaged with all stakeholders to establish a steering committee to deal with not only the backlogs but also to fast-track the establishment of special commercial crimes courts. Both committees are seized with the need to develop and implement measures to unblock processes and facilitate the movement of cases through court processes as swiftly as possible, using both digital/online solutions as well as resource capacitation.”
Asked about the progress made with the establishment of the seven additional special commercial crimes courts, Lamola said the department has in its medium term strategic framework committed to a target of five additional special commercial crimes courts by the 2023-2024 financial year.
“However in view of the government’s intensified plan to stamp out corruption, the establishment of all five special commercial crimes courts have been brought forward to 31 March 2021.”
Lamola also said new additional special commercial crime courts would be established in Limpopo (Giyani), Mpumalanga (Nelspruit), Northern Cape (Kimberley) and North West (Mmabatho).
“There general notices to this effect will be published soon. The above mentioned provinces are those where there are currently no special commercial crime courts,” he said.
“With dedicated courts focusing on corruption and serious economic crimes, there will be greater efficiency as these courts will be staffed with a specially trained cohort of prosecutors and judicial officers, among others.”
The minister said it was not their commitment towards creating special commercial crimes courts in provinces where there was none, but they sought to enhance the capacity of exiting special courts.
“Through this enhancement, additional judicial officers, prosecutors and court staff with requisite skills are being appointed where there is a greater need.”