South African Board of Sheriffs takes matters of corruption seriously

October 5th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Board for Sheriffs (SABFS) held a virtual Imbizo on 4 September 2020, under the theme: ‘Keeping the wheels of justice turning despite COVID-19’. While addressing attendees, the chairperson of the SABFS, Charmaine Mabuza, said that Sheriffs are not permitted to do residential and land evictions unless the court has determined and approved the urgency of the evictions. She added that the SABFS is working closely with the Rules Board for Courts of Law (Rules Board) to enable the implementation of the online platform as directed by regulations. ‘We have submitted our proposal for the amendments to the Rules Board and we urge the Rules Board to give this urgent attention. The [SABFS] has further issued terms of references for service providers to develop the online auction platform, which is currently being considered,’ Ms Mabuza said.

Ms Mabuza pointed out that the SABFS has had to modernise its response to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has set. She said that at the same time fairness and the rule of equitable justice or access to justice should be experienced by all, which includes striking a balance in ensuring that communities in the rural areas have access to justice. ‘Our mandate as the [SABFS] is to make sure that Sheriffs’ Trust accounts are properly managed and are accounted for. Our role as the [SABFS] is to ensure that public funds are not misappropriated. To this extent, the [SABFS] has instituted legal proceedings and has frozen four Sheriffs’ Trust accounts during the COVID-19 period,’ Ms Mabuza added.

Ms Mabuza said the SABFS is taking the issue of corruption seriously, as trust accounts determine the trust relationship between Sheriffs and the public. She added that there were 635 formal complaints received against Sheriffs from the public, of which 594 have been resolved and the remaining complaints are still being investigated. ‘I reiterate the Board will not tolerate any misappropriation of funds; COVID-19 should not be an excuse for Sheriffs to dig into the Trust account. I remind Sheriffs that they hold positions of trust,’ Ms Mabuza said.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, said Sheriffs form an integral part of the justice system. He added that on many occasions the government has told South Africans how disruptive the COVID-19 pandemic has been. He pointed out that the justice system has not been spared. He said that during the implementation of lockdown regulations, government looked at how the lockdown was going to affect the constitutional rights of South Africans. He pointed out that the courts were always going to be a critical feature, although the country was on lockdown it did not mean that the justice system could shut down. ‘At the same time, one had to be mindful that Sheriffs could be endangered as they move from door to door while they are working,’ Mr Lamola said.

Mr Lamola said that in line with the court directives that were published in accordance with various levels of the lockdown, the Justice Department thought it would be prudent in varying degrees, that role players of justice and stakeholders, such as Sheriffs could urgently deal with essential matters. He noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be easing up, there is a step closer to normality at courts, although it is still not yet business as usual. ‘I am mindful at the fact that we live in a country where less than 40% of our citizens are satisfied with the courts. This is according to the 2017/2018 Victims of Crime survey. One can, of course argue, that the components of this dissatisfaction do not fall entirely within the sphere of Sheriffs, but if one views the Sheriffs, along with other court stakeholders, … it does not negate the fact that a lot of work needs to be done by every court official, by every judicial officer and by every Sheriff to help South Africans place their faith in this critical pillar of our constitutional democracy,’ Mr Lamola added.

Mr Lamola said that in the context of the Sheriffs, this manifested in a form of professionalisation. He added that in recent years, with the guidance of Deputy Minister, John Jeffery, the SABFS has made significant progress in training and research, assisting and developing staff and deputy Sheriffs to their fullest potential and promoting a society of sheriff’s founded on respect, integrity, diversity and gender equality, as well as quality service delivery.

Mr Lamola pointed out that COVID-19 has revealed something critical about South Africa’s society; that efficiency in the justice system in non-negotiable. ‘As a result, our system and our ways of work need to be radically redefined. … in addition to the professionalisation mission, we need to answer the question, how do we deploy technology to make Sheriffs more efficient? Surely the time for a standardised technological framework has come.

In reality what seem as a tangible revolution of the law of civil procedure. For example, on some of the practice directives developed by Judges Presidents of the High Courts of South Africa, we see the facilitation of processes, which allows for court papers to be exchanged wholly via electronic exchange,’ Mr Lamola said.

Mr Lamola pointed out that the Justice Department needs to bring the services of the courts closer to communities. He said that it is also in the interest of the justice system to ensure that the Sheriffs’ profession is a transformed and professional one. Mr Lamola added that the Justice Department continues to make significant progress in transforming the Sheriff’s profession.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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