Transformation of the legal sector is a societal function

June 8th, 2021

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on 5 May 2021, that position renewal at the Department of Justice (the Department) has started. He said that critical vacancies at the highest level of the Department have been filled and will continue to be filled with the best personnel the Department can find. ‘As a result, we have begun the process to reassert the Justice College as a centre to enhance the capacity of our own officials but also to position as a service provider for justice related services to other departments and the continent as a whole,’ Mr Lamola added.

Mr Lamola pointed out that the Department is making substantial investments in the modernisation programme to support its initiatives. He said that the Department, similarly, is putting more effort into the Integrated Justice System (IJS) as part of accelerating the digitisation and modernisation of the justice system. He gave an example that through the IJS, the development of the Court-Online case management engine was completed, and system demonstrations were conducted for various stakeholders.

Mr Lamola added that the digital case bundle pilot at the Johannesburg and Pretoria Divisions of the High Court was completed successfully, and the digital case bundle has been operational at both sites. He said the project has also established a centralised Court-Online helpdesk to provide support to both internal stakeholders (judges and court officials) and external stakeholders (legal practitioners). Mr Lamola also pointed out that the Master’s Office is earmarked for significant change this year. He said the Department will be introducing an online deceased estate system, which will bring the Master’s Office into the digital age.

Mr Lamola added that his office can proudly say that the State Attorney Amendment Act 13 of 2014 has been operationalised in both word and in deed. ‘As we sit here today all the seats of the High Court also have regional heads in the office of the state attorney. This effectively will create an environment for better management of state litigation,’ Mr Lamola said.

Mr Lamola pointed out that the transformation of the legal sector, cannot be achieved by government alone. He said that transformation is a societal function. He added that it is within this context that the Department will introduce the Legal Sector Code in the coming weeks, which will create an accountability mechanism.

Mr Lamola pointed out that by the end of the financial year the Department must be able to account for the following outcomes –

  • modernised and digitised justice services platforms;
  • improved organisational capabilities and good governance;
  • improved awareness of justice services and constitutionalism;
  • increased access to justice services;
  • transformed colonial/Apartheid-era justice-related legislation;
  • transformed state litigation services;
  • transformed legal profession;
  • advanced constitutionalism, human rights, and the rule of law; and
  • crime and corruption reduced though effective prosecution.

Mr Lamola added that in this final year, the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) as a national department will be evaluated on three strategic outcomes namely –

  • effective and efficient administrative support;
  • improved court efficiency; and
  • enhanced judicial performance.

He said that for the OCJ to achieve the above outcomes, it will expand and evaluate initiatives, such as rolling out more Court-Online systems. He pointed out that as the country continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that access to justice is not compromised and the court remains operational in line with Directives issued by the Chief Justice. Mr Lamola added that the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI) remains one of the key priorities for the OCJ. He said an adequately capacitated SAJEI is important for the training of serving and aspirant judicial officers and, ultimately, the delivery of quality justice. ‘During this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, SAJEI will leverage on virtual platforms to continue providing training to judicial officers’, Mr Lamola said.

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