Parliamentary Question: DoJ: Court backlocks


12 N D Ntwanambi (ANC-WC) to ask the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development:
(1)    Whether his department has initiated processes and mechanisms to eradicate the backlog at courts particularly at district and regional magistrate level; if not, what is the position in this regard; if so, what are the relevant details;

(2)    whether these mechanisms include any mechanisms to manage the problem of awaiting-trial detainees in correctional centres; if not, why not; if so, what is the level of interaction between his department and the Department of Correctional Services in this regard?               

(1)I have pleasure in informing the Honourable Member that the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster departments have introduced various interventions to deal with the case backlogs.  In this regard, a specific Case Backlog Reduction Project intervention was implemented in November 2006 with the Regional courts as the main focus area.  (Backlog cases are viewed as all those cases longer than 6 months on the District Court roll, 9 months on the Regional Court roll and 12 months on the High Court roll.)  The Case Backlog Reduction intervention assists Regional and District Court Centres in identified priority areas country-wide that require focused attention with additional capacity (i.e. acting magistrates, interpreters, clerks, prosecutors and legal aid lawyers) on a contract basis.  The Project’s aim is to ensure that the inflow of the number of new cases is balanced by the number of matters concluded and that matters are finalised more speedily.

This intervention has led to the establishment of more than 50 additional regional backlog courts (through the appointment of additional regional court magistrates, clerks, prosecutors, interpreters and legal aid lawyers on contract).  The number has fluctuated since then as courts are closed or shifted to other areas once the backlog has been dealt with in a particular area.  After an investigation into the performance of the District Courts, several high priority district backlog courts were also established since April 2010. At the end of December 2010, there were 56 Regional and 18 District backlog courts.

The total number of cases disposed by these additional Regional and District backlog courts, since 1 November 2006 until the end of December 2010, is 32 650 cases.
         The Case Backlog Reduction Project will continue in the 2011/2012 financial year with 84 additional backlog courts (60 Regional courts and 24 District courts).  (A list of these courts can be obtained from my Department.)

The Project deliverables have been integrated into the Outputs of the Delivery Agreement of the JCPS Cluster relating to Outcome 3: All people in South Africa are and feel safe.  
(2)With regard to the management of awaiting-trial detainees in Correctional facilities, the Honourable Member can note that there is constant interaction between the JCPS departments to help reduce the number of awaiting-trial detainees and various interventions have been initiated in this regard.  An Inter-sectoral Management of Remand Detainees Task Team, comprising representatives from the JCPS Cluster departments at a very senior level, has also been established in 2010 to fast-track initiatives regarding the improvement of the situation of awaiting-trial detainees. 
         The Department of Correctional Services has been requested to provide lists of long outstanding cases with persons in detention on a monthly basis to my Department, Legal Aid SA and the NPA.  These cases are then investigated and where-ever possible, fast tracked for speedier finalisation.

The White Paper on Awaiting Trial Detainees, which focuses on remand detention and rehabilitation of offenders, has been finalised and approved by Cabinet on 27 October 2010.  Cabinet has also approved the Correctional Matters Amendment Bill which will provide for a legislative basis for the improved management of remand detention as envisaged in the White Paper.  This will assist in addressing the overcrowding of Correctional Services facilities.   

Through the interventions by the JCPS Cluster, in relation to reducing the overcrowding of Correctional Services facilities, we have managed to reduce the number of awaiting-trial detainees from 49 868 at the end of February 2009 to     46 362 at the end of Quarter 3 of 2010/2011.  Positive results have been achieved regarding the reduction of the number of children in Correctional Services facilities. At the end of December 2010, there were only 290 awaiting-trial children in the various Correctional Services facilities country-wide.