Radebe insists court backlogs will get smaller

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe yesterday insisted that efficiency measures being implemented would improve the rate at which the court backlog is reduced, despite figures indicating that it would take 10 years to clear at the present rate.

A media briefing was told that the backlog in regional courts had been reduced by 18000 cases over three years, or about 6000 a year.

Given that the backlog for the 2008-09 financial year was 42495, and that there were 234000 outstanding cases, eliminating the backlog remains a pipe dream at the current rate.

It is not known how many outstanding cases have since been added to the backlog. High court cases are considered to be on the backlog after 12 months, and after nine months in the regional court.

Radebe told the briefing that despite reports that the comprehensive review of the criminal justice system was moribund, it had been completed and was well into the implementation phase.

On the issue of the backlog at courts, he said a determined effort was being made to get all prosecutors into court to do their jobs and prosecute cases.

Emphasis was also being put on improving the detective services to better prepare cases. In addition, Radebe said there was a drive to intensify the modernisation of court procedures to speed up the passage of cases. This included the use of video conferencing where cases were remanded, and avoiding moving prisoners for brief court appearances.

The rules of court were also to be changed to improve efficiency, he said. Radebe said “perceptions” about the criminal justice review having stalled were wrong.

A great deal of research had been done and the review was now being implemented. This began with a common mission and vision statement across all elements of the system. Radebe, in reply to a question, said he was hopeful that the controversial Superior Courts Bill — put on hold after challenges that it infringed the constitutional independence of the judiciary — would be in Parliament before June.

The bill seeks to rationalise the hierarchy of SA’s courts, with the Constitutional Court at the apex. He said redrafting of the bill was complete and Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo was compiling a response to it.

The original bill fell foul of the judiciary and the legal community for placing administrative authority over courts in the minister’s hands. “It is all systems go for the Superior Courts Bill,” Radebe said, and he would use the scheduled meeting of the Judicial Service Commission next month to further consult the judiciary.

Regarding the controversial changes to section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act — the law governing the use of lethal force by the police — Radebe said the amendments would be going to the Cabinet soon.

The amendments were in line with a Constitutional Court ruling, delivered by Judge Johann Kriegler, on the use of deadly force, he said.

Source: www.businessday.co.za 20100305

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