Public Positions seminar looks at The Cost of Justice

Kyla Herrmannsen

The Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) in collaboration with the Wits Political Studies Department and the History Department, with support from the Raith Foundation, have launched a public seminar series, ‘Public Positions on History and Politics’.

The first seminar in the series, on the topic ‘The Cost of Justice’ looked at a briefing paper produced by Jonathan Klaaren which was then discussed by the panel: Kathy Satchwell, Teboho Mosikili and Geoff Budlender. The series was opened by Wits University’s Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib.

Klaaren’s paper looked at the literal costs of justice in South Africa, noting that “the average South African household would need to save a week’s worth of income in order to afford a one-hour consultation with an average attorney.” Klaaren also revealed statistics regarding the people per lawyer ratio in South Africa and other countries. In America, there are 265 people per lawyer while, in Malawi, there is only one lawyer per 49 000 people. In South Africa, Klaaren found that there are 217 people per lawyer.

Klaaren noted that while Legal Aid South Africa (LASA) has made huge inroads into providing access to justice for the poor, state expenditure focuses on criminal justice over civil justice. He suggested that in order to increase access to justice, “funding to LASA could be increased with the scope of legal aid widened to civil justice matters.”

Guided by Satchwell’s mediating, Moskili and Budlender spoke on issues raised in Klaaren’s paper. Mosikili noted that access to courts and legal representation is a right enshrined in Section 34 and Section 35 of our Constitution. Though, he quoted Professor Stephen Tuson, saying that sadly “money does buy you better justice.” He noted importantly that it is the state’s duty to ensure that all citizens have access to justice. He cited the recent ruling in regard to the state being ordered to pay the miners’ legal fees in the Marikana Commission as an important demonstration of Section 34 and 35 of the Constitution being tested and realised.

Budlender began by stating that “the rights in the Constitution are supposed to be real rights exercised in the real world” but conceded that this is not always the case. He noted that barriers faced by the poor in accessing justice amount to an “intolerable situation in a society which claims to be ruled by law.” But, importantly, Budlender took issue with Klaaren’s citing of James and Beavon who asserted “the poor in South Africa were arguably in a better place from which to access justice 80 years ago than today.” Budlender spoke from personal experience noting that compared to even 40 years ago, the poor are better off now with regard to accessing justice. “Things haven’t gotten worse, they’ve gotten better,” he said, highlighting the increased role of Legal Aid South Africa as well as organisations such as SERI, LRC, ProBono.Org and numerous Law Clinics that all exist to increase access to justice.

The next event will take place in roughly a month’s time and future topics will include: ‘police against the people’, ‘the crisis of democratic representation in local government’, ‘public and private health systems and quality care’ as well as ‘curating the city and urban citizenship.’ For more information, have a look at the Public Positions’ website.


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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