SAPA, June 15
Two thirds of judges and magistrates must ultimately be black in order to reflect the country’s racial demographics, new justice department director-general Menzi Simelani said on Wednesday.
Referring to a lack of female and black judges, he said: “There is a clear misrepresentation”.
He could not give a time-frame for achieving the target, saying the process was being hampered by the fact that judges were appointed for life.
“We are dependent on the number of vacancies.”
Another drawback was the limited pool of, for example, qualified women from which to draw judges.
Of the current 194 judges in the country, 98 were white males and 48 black males. There were 14 Indian and eight coloured males.
Among female judges, 12 were white, seven black, four Indian and three coloured.
Among the 1341 magistrates, 437 were white males, 377 black males and 200 white women.
Simelani said the Judicial Service Commission would sit in October to consider new appointments to the bench.
Also, the envisaged creation of new high courts in provinces currently without them, such as Limpopo, would give the department an opportunity to address the demographics problem.
Simelani said the transformation of the judiciary and legal profession was one of the key principles of a new strategy being developed for the department, expected to be completed early next month.
The department was also putting in place a legal charter to deal with transformation issues.
Simelani announced plans to make the country’s courts more efficient by appointing court managers tasked with ensuring that the necessary infrastructure and staff were in place for court hours to be used more productively.
This process would, among other things, entail the appointment of more magistrates and other officials, and the department was busy calculating the costs, he said.
Simelani said the department aimed to reduce to six months the maximum time for a criminal matter from being lodged to being heard. For civil matters, the target was nine months.
The department was also involved in a project to modernise court systems, including computerising the “case management system” from beginning to end to prevent the loss of dockets.
In a bid to lessen the costs of civil litigation against the government, plans were afoot to boost the office of the state attorney and appoint a chief litigator.
There were currently about 3000 cases underway against government, costing taxpayers a lot of money in settlements.
The department was also looking at issues of remuneration in a bid to retain the services of state attorney staff, Simelani said.
He added that a decision had been taken to give at least half of the work going out of the office to black advocates or practitioners.
But ultimately, the plan was for the state attorney’s office to do all the work in-house.