Courts of Justice: Innovation to Ensure Access to Justice in South Africa

The second installment of the 2015 Justice for Breakfast roundtable series was held on June 25, 2015 at the Wits school of Governance, who co-host the series with the Wits Justice Project. This roundtable centred on the kinds of innovations needed to ensure administration and access to justice is in alignment with the National Development Plan (NDP).

Those in attendance included representative from various organizations, including the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, Legal Aid South Africa, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the South African Human Rights Commission, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and the Embassy of Switzerland. Some of the questions that participants were encouraged to mull over during the roundtable included:

  • Can the problem of court backlogs be sufficiently addressed through more efficient court processes or are other external factors responsible for the high volume of cases?
  • Is technology receiving sufficient priority? How else can technology be utilised?
  • What kinds of solutions are needed to address the public’s perception that the criminal justice system is racist and discriminates against the poor?
  • How can examples of efficiency and lateral thinking be identified in South Africa’s criminal justice system, and be replicated elsewhere?
Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi (Project Coordinator at Wits Justice Project) and Catherine Moat (Head: Public Safety Programme at Wits School of Governance) welcomed those in attendance and introduced the second installment of the 2015 Justice for Breakfast roundtable series.

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi (Project Coordinator at Wits Justice Project) and Catherine Moat (Head: Public Safety Programme at Wits School of Governance) welcomed those in attendance and introduced the second installment of the 2015 Justice for Breakfast roundtable series.

Lead discussant – Adv. Pieter du Rand, Chief Director of Court Services for the Department of Justice and Consitutional Development (DoJCD) – kicked off the discussion by giving an overview of some of the successful interventions that have been in effect within the criminal justice system since the transition to democracy in 1994. He then presented some statistics to highlight the complexity of the criminal justice system. For example there are 766 court centres countrywide, 242 correctional centres, more than 3000 prosecutors, 38 000 SAPS detective, 69 crime-scene labs, 41,000 people in remand about 100,000 sentenced inmates. The criminal justice system is an intricate system comprising of different role-players.

The majority of Adv. du Rand’s presentation focused on the Criminal Justice System Review 7-point-plan adopted by the Department of Justice to strengthen the criminal justice system so that unbiased justice through a coordinated and integrated manner is administered and crime deterred. The seven focus points include:

  1. A single vision for the criminal justice system through coordination and management of various departments.
  2. Legislation and protocols aligned with the criminal justice system
  3. Practical short and long-term proposal to improve court performance
  4. Improved component parts negatively impacting the criminal justice system
  5. An integrated national criminal justice information system
  6. Technological innovations
  7. Involvement of the population in fighting against crime
Justice for Breakfast-Courts of Justice Innovation to Ensure Access to Justice in South Africa  (33)

Adv. Pieter du Rand, Chief Director of Court Services for the Department of Justice and Consitutional Development (DoJCD)

Successes

  • Faster availability of forensic information due to finalisation of the protocol dealing with forensic evidence.
  • Improved coordination between various role-players in court due to case-flow management guidelines.
  • Legal Aid South Africa receives digital notifications, sent from the police station, when someone who is arrested might qualify for legal representation.
  • Protocols on electronic tagging of remand detainees and improving mental illness evaluation processes.

According to Adv. du Rand, areas that still need a lot of improvement include cyber security, court infrastructure, and management at court level, and transcription, as well as language policy. He also stressed the need to focus on implementing the recently adopted Judicial Norms and Standards, which is a major priority for the Office of the Chief Justice.

After the presentation, a productive discussion was held, in which many of the participants offered support for the processes of innovation, with their own particular expertise and insights.

An official outcome document from the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable will soon be made available.

Justice for Breakfast-Courts of Justice Innovation to Ensure Access to Justice in South Africa  (19)

This Justice for Breakfast roundtable focused on the kinds of innovations needed to ensure administration and access to justice is in alignment with the National Development Plan

Related Readings

Anthology of the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable Debates 2012/2013

Justice for Breakfast: the human cost of administrative errors

In the court of public opinion: attitudes towards the criminal courts

 

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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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