Home News Covid-19 leads to massive court backlogs

Covid-19 leads to massive court backlogs

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There are almost 2 000 court case backlogs at regional and district courts in the Northern Cape as a result of Covid-19.

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THERE are almost 2 000 court case backlogs at regional and district courts in the Northern Cape as a result of Covid-19.

The pandemic has seen courts handling only a minimum number of trials, resulting in the massive backlogs.

This was revealed by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola in written parliamentary replies to two sets of questions from DA MP Werner Horn.

Horn had asked about the number of cases that were on the criminal court backlog roll on June 26 in both district and regional courts.

He also enquired about the backlog in both courts on March 25 and May 25.

Backlogs in the district court are those cases that have been on the roll for six months or more while in the regional court they have been on the roll for nine months or more.

Lamola said during the lockdown – alert levels 3, 4 and 5 – that courts dealt with a minimal number of trials.

“Most cases were postponed in order to limit the number of people going to courts and thereby risking the spread of the virus. Such postponements led to further increases in the already existing criminal case backlogs,” he said.

Lamola also said there were 62 161 backlogs in cases in both lower courts comprising 39 766 cases in the district courts and 22 395 in the regional courts country-wide as at June 26.

The Western Cape led the pack with 14 645 cases followed by Gauteng with 12 890.

In the Northern Cape there were 1 083 backlogs in district courts in the Province and 685 in regional courts.

The minister said there were continuous engagements between the department and regional court presidents as well as chief magistrates to develop mechanisms to address the escalating backlogs.

“The engagement has led to the establishment of the integrated case-backlog plan through which cases are being arranged for trial in terms of their priority.”

Lamola said it was, however, difficult to effectively implement the plan due to the spikes in Covid-19 infections, which in turn lead to constant closure of courts.

“The implementation of the plan will become more effective once the country has reached its peak and subsequent decline in the infection number,” he said.

The minister also said that as at the end of March, a total of 194 225 cases were carried forward to the financial year which started in April.

“In addition to the cases carried forward, a total of 70 667 cases were enrolled during the lockdown period in April and May 2020, the majority of which were postponed to a date after the lockdown period.”

Lamola noted that the disruption in the optimal use of courts resulted in an increase in the number of outstanding cases in the lower courts.

“At the end of May 2020, compared to the outstanding roll and backlog cases at the end of March 2020, the outstanding caseloads in regional courts increased by 1% and in district courts by 18%.”

He said a similar increase was noted in the backlog of cases which increased by 14% in the regional courts and in the district courts by 63%.