Lack of military judges hampers Defence Legal Services

Shortage of judges hampers Defence Legal ServicesDefence Legal Services, the legal arm of the Department of Defence (DoD), did not have a particularly good 2015/16 year because of the non-appointment of military judges.

According to the latest DoD annual report a total of 142 litigation cases were received by Defence Legal Services.

“All these cases were attended to. Twenty-seven were finalised, 23 were settled in the best interests of the DoD and three were lost.” The report does not state what happened to the other 88 cases received.

“This division was not in a position to perform to its full capacity to ensure the backlog of litigation cases were effectively attended to in the best interests of the DoD due to the non-appointment of military judges. The lack of military judges had a carry though effect on all other systems in the military justice system and compromised support for ‘zero tolerance’ on all forms of ill-discipline and abuse and abuse of power,” according to the report.

The lack of military judges was pointed out by Sandu (the SA National Defence Union) is April last year with its national secretary Pikkie Greeff saying “the military court system has been brought to a grinding halt due to the fact that the required letters of appointment for military judges have not yet been signed by the DoD”.

He said at the time this ensured no military trials could either commence or continue until appointments were made and confirmed.

In the preceding final year Defence Legal Services received 96 cases, attending to 83 with 23 litigation cases settled in favour of the DoD.

There has, to date, been no announcement from either the DoD or the SANDF regarding the appointment of military judges.

On the plus side of the legal Defence Legal Services complied with SA National Defence Force (SANDF) requirements as regards operational legal support and advice, legislative legal advice, drafting of legal instruments and training for all internal and external operations and exercises for combat readiness.

The division also “provided positive negotiation and support in respect of co-operation with international, regional and sub-regional organisations”. These included the UN, AU, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and foreign armed forces such as Brazil and India, for Exercise Ibsamar and France (Exercise Oxide).

During the year under review no cases of corruption involving R5 million or more were reported and thus no target was set or met.

By contrast the timeframe post the 2015/16 financial year-end has seen a number of investigations and arrests in connection with fraud and corruption.

In August 27 SANDF members from the SA Army Support Base in Polokwane were placed on leave to allow for a full investigation into allegations of corruption and fraud at the base.

Earlier in August three SANDF members, one of them a senior officer at the SA Army Support Base in Potchefstroom, North West, were arrested in connection with charges of fraud and corruption. The charges apparently relate to a tender for security fencing awarded eight years ago.

Earlier this year a brigadier general in the SA Army Signal Formation, headquartered at Wonderboom, north of Pretoria, and two senior officers were arrested after a joint Defence Intelligence/Military Police investigation into computers, cabling and air condition maintenance.