Judicial leadership adopts plan of action

October 1st, 2012

By Nomfundo Manyathi

Recent strategic planning sessions by the judiciary provided an opportunity for ‘an honest and brutal self-introspection’ by the judicial branch of government. Three separate planning sessions, which took place in Mookgopong, Limpopo, were attended by heads of the High Courts, regional court presidents and chief magistrates respectively.

The sessions afforded senior members of the judiciary – including Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng – an opportunity to analyse challenges the judicial leadership is facing.

The series of meetings were facilitated by the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Sir Dennis Byron; Chief Judge of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia, Richard Malanjum; and scholar and honorary professor at the University of South Africa, Professor Somadoda Fikeni.

A press release by the Office of the Chief Justice stated that among the major resolutions that emerged from the strategic planning session were –

  • the clearing of case backlogs;
  • a renewed commitment to administer and dispense quality justice to all; and
  • enhancing stakeholder relations and community outreach programmes.
  • In addition, the judicial leadership adopted a practical programme of action for immediate, medium and long-term implementation for the improvement of court performance.

In doing so, they committed to:

  • Adopt and immediately implement a judicial case management system in order to ‘fight’ postponements and case backlogs.
  • Establish case flow management forums in provinces that do not have these in place and to strengthen existing ones.
  • Introduce additional performance enhancement, monitoring and measurement mechanisms, including additional judicial officers to cope with the increased workload, the acquisition of court room and office space where needed and the extension of court hours.
  • Enhance access to justice by deploying mobile courts, restructuring small claims courts and establishing more sexual offences courts and community courts. Constitutionally compliant traditional courts will also be resourced and re-established.

The court leaders also identified the ‘urgent need to modernise the courts’ by introducing user-friendly and updated information technology in order to bring the efficiency of the courts up to speed with international best practices. Electronic filing and record keeping, video conferencing and satellite communication in evidence taking from witnesses in far-flung areas were applauded as steps in the right direction in terms of the use of information technology to improve efficiency.

Also on the agenda was the need for more language practitioners in courts. It was agreed that the competence of language practitioners would be highly enhanced if judges and magistrates assisted in their training.

Chief Justice Mogoeng committed to increased engagement with the public to inform them about the judiciary’s programmes and of their rights and how best they can access justice. He said that he was satisfied that the objectives of the strategic planning sessions were achieved. ‘We have met as the leadership of the judiciary and we have drawn up comprehensive plans to deal with the challenges that continue to plague court efficiency and the delivery of speedy and quality justice to all our people. We are going to work tirelessly to ensure that the situation in our courts is turned around and we have set ourselves to achieve a great deal by this time next year,’ he said.

Director of media relations at the Private Office of the Chief Justice, Lulama Luti, elaborated on this. She told De Rebus that the leadership of the judiciary, at all three levels of the court system, had committed to ensuring that the resolutions of the retreat were implemented as a matter of urgency.

‘If you take, for example, the issue of case backlogs, there are practical measures that have been suggested for immediate implementation and the leadership has agreed that these will be implemented immediately. The establishment of case flow management structures in those areas where these structures do not exist has also been suggested as a matter of priority because this will help identify where the stumbling blocks are in relation to case finalisation. The issues of education and awareness programmes for the public and the improvement of stakeholder relations with all stakeholders were also highlighted.’

Ms Luti added that the judiciary wished to engage more with the public to share information and obtain their views about the judicial system. In addition, it would like to engage in a more meaningful manner with the public to ensure that they are educated about their rights and know how they can access the courts in the pursuit of those rights.

Nomfundo Manyathi, nomfundo@derebus.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2012 (Oct) DR 5.