18 May 2017

South Africa: Strides Made in Transforming the Judiciary

Pretoria — The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) continues to make strides in transforming the judiciary to reflect the racial and gender composition of South African society.

Out of the 246 judges in active service, 159 (66%) are male and 87 (34%) are female, of which 160 (65%) are black and 86 (35%) are white, said Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha.

"The nomination by the President of the first ever woman to the position of President of the Supreme Court of Appeal -- who is also black -- namely Justice Mandisa Maya, is a cause for celebration," the Minister said on Wednesday.

He was speaking to the media ahead of the Office of the Chief Justice's Budget Vote in Parliament. The Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) was proclaimed as a national department by President Jacob Zuma in 2010. Its mandate is to provide support to the Chief Justice in executing his administrative and judicial powers and functions in his capacity as Head of the Judiciary.

Minister Masutha announced that the project to establish a judiciary-led court administration model has commenced, and engagement with the Chief Justice is underway.

The OCJ has in the past maintained that the creation of a judiciary based court administration system will not compromise the independence of the judiciary. Unlike the Auditor General who must personally account to Parliament, the accounting responsibilities for a court administration model -- led by the judiciary -- rests squarely on the shoulders of the Secretary General, as is the case in the USA and the Russian Federation.

Minister Masutha said engagements around this are being undertaken by the Inter-Ministerial Committee under the leadership of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is considering the views of the judiciary regarding the end result of the Court Administration Model.

"The ongoing institutional reforms are part of the ongoing discourse on separation of powers, the interpretation and application of which has largely evolved through jurisprudence," Minister Masutha said.

Broader access to justice

Turning on improving access to justice, Minister Masutha said the Mpumalanga High Court will be completed during this financial year, following the successful launch and operationalisation of the Limpopo High Court in November 2016.

This milestone, Minister Masutha said, is proof of government's concerted efforts to realise the goal of establishing a high court in every province in the republic.

The department is also implementing a number of other infrastructure related projects, which include aspects of security, which amongst others, will address the recent security breach at the national offices of the OCJ.

The department will also continue skilling judicial officers this year.

During the 2016/17 financial year, 90 judicial education courses, which include basic and advanced courses for newly appointed magistrates and aspirant judges, were offered to serving and aspiring judicial officers. This exceeded the set target of 70.

In the 2017/18 financial year, the number of judicial education courses to be offered by the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI), located under the OCJ, is 77.

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