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Concern over ‘incapacitated’ judiciary

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“These vacancies, which include positions of presiding officers and court officials, also translate to a chronic inability for our Judiciary to adequately fulfil its constitutional mandate to the people of South Africa.”

THE DA is deeply concerned about the chronic vacancies present in our court system, totalling over 1 000 empty posts, some of which have been left unfilled for over 365 days.

In the Northern Cape there are 20 vacancies for court officials in the lower courts, while there is also a vacancy for a Deputy Judge President and Judge in the Northern Cape High Court.

The local high court also has a vacancy for an administration clerk, a chief registrar and a senior court interpreter.

In a reply to a DA parliamentary question, the Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, revealed that vacancies in the lower courts added up to 889 posts, with an additional 163 vacancies present in the higher courts.

Advocate Glynnis Breytenbach, DA spokesperson on Justice, said in a media statement that the chronic vacancies in the court system had severe implications for South Africans who were seeking justice for crimes committed against them.

“These vacancies, which include positions of presiding officers and court officials, also translate to a chronic inability for our Judiciary to adequately fulfil its constitutional mandate to the people of South Africa.”

Breytenbach pointed out that there was clearly a blockage within the system, which required urgent and immediate attention.

“The Department of Justice is responsible for advertising judicial vacancies, while the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), in terms of Section 178 of the Constitution, is responsible for interviewing candidates for judicial posts and making recommendations for appointments to the bench. The President appoints Judges upon the recommendations of the JSC.”

She stated that the party would write to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services to request that the Department of Justice, the JSC, and the Presidency appear before the committee in order to get to the bottom of where the blockage lies in appointing Magistrates, Judges and judicial support staff at our courts.

“We will also conduct oversight inspections at some of our lower and higher courts to assess what more can be done to ensure that South Africans are able to trust and depend on our Judiciary to deliver them the justice they deserve, by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

Breytenbach added that lower courts are currently incapacitated with 426 vacant presiding officer posts and 463 vacant administration posts. “This is compounded by the fact that there are 36 vacancies for presiding officers in the higher court, which is also lacking in 130 court official positions.

“We cannot accept these vacancies while our people, especially our women and children, are being held to ransom on a daily basis due to heinous acts of violent crime. The annual crime statistics report revealed staggering increases in our rape and murder rates – now is not the time for an incapacitated judiciary.”