NATIONAL ASSEMBLY TUESDAY, 18 MAY MINI PLENARIES (VIRTUAL) 16:30 – 18:15 Vote 27: Office of the Chief Justice

Hon. Hon. CT Msimang

 

Honourable Speaker,

The critical role of the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) in our democracy cannot be overstated. This critical role is why the baseline reduction in funds allocated to the OCJ is concerning, as it will negatively affect its capacity to sufficiently resource courts in terms of personnel, equipment and ICT infrastructure. Further, the reduction compromises judicial functions, the court modernisation process and the constitutional right to access to justice by reducing the number of circuit courts, among other necessary functions.

The IFP notes, with disappointment, the developments at the Mpumalanga High Court. Over and above the expense and overly long time period it took to complete and open the Court, it is now apparent that the Court continues to be a financial problem. Only four of the intended eight Courts were built – at double the price, with structural defects. The funds to remedy these structural defects will affect service delivery, both at that Court, and at others. The IFP wishes to caution government departments when engaging with service providers who inflate their prices. It is concerning that the OCJ, the buttress of our Constitution, was not more diligent when engaging the concerned contractors.

The IFP is also concerned about the impact of the budget cuts on the establishment and functioning of the new Land Court. The Portfolio Committee on Justice was advised that one of the more pressing issues at the OCJ is staffing. The budget cuts make it almost impossible to hire the needed personnel, particularly when the DoJ is already tremendously understaffed. If the Land Court takes off, the IFP is worried that sub-standard work might become the order of the day, as existing staff members are already overburdened.

The IFP notes that the OCJ intended to keep vacancies in funded posts under 10%, however, with the budget cuts, it now seems unlikely that this will be possible. Will this not affect the right to access to courts and the right to have one’s matter heard timeously? Further, will the budget cuts not result in the loss of employment for staff members, to ensure that the OCJ remains within budget? The IFP worries that this critical Office will be crippled by a lack of adequate funds, leading to the miscarriage of justice for many, as well as opening loopholes for corruption to take place.

The IFP is pleased to note that the budget cuts will not affect the rollout of the Court Online system, bringing our Judiciary into the digital age and making work easier for OCJ staff. We note that funds for a data recovery/backup site for the Court Online system, as well as a better internet speed are not covered, due to the current financial state. This poses a significant threat to data maintenance and security.

The IFP supports the Budget.