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More than 2000 cases backlogged in NC courts

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The number of backlogged court cases, exceeding nine months, in the Northern Cape has jumped to more than 2000.

Ronald Lamola. File image

THE NUMBER of backlogged court cases, exceeding nine months, in the Northern Cape has jumped to more than 2000.

This is according to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, who was responding to a parliamentary question by Jacqueline Mofokeng.

The figures supplied by Lamola indicate that by the end of July, there were a total of 1 178 backlogged cases in magistrate’s courts in the Kimberley district, while the backlog in Northern Cape regional courts was a further 1 014 cases.

The total number of outstanding cases at the magistrate’s courts that fall within the Kimberley district is 3 988, with a backlog of 1 178 cases, representing a 30% backlog.

In terms of regional court cases, the total number of open cases is 1 516, with a backlog of 1 014 (67%).

Nationally the total percentage of backlog cases in the district courts stands at 39% whereas the percentage in the regional courts stands at 75%.

According to Lamola, the Covid-19 context has posed many challenges for court efficiency with 268 courts having to close down, as at end of July 2020, for days at a time for decontamination when one or more positive Covid-19 cases were detected, leading to self-isolation and self–quarantine for a period of time.

“Due to an increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, some of the courts had to close more than once. The same challenges are being equally experienced by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), South African Police Service (SAPS) and Legal Aid South Africa (SA),” Lamola added.

“It must be understood that ‘business as usual’ has not been possible since the declaration of the State of Disaster due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“However, the department has sought to optimise court efficiency in order to reduce the number of backlog criminal cases.

“Engagements with the Lower Court Judicial Forums, Regional Court Heads, NPA, Legal Aid SA, SAPS, and Department of Correctional Services have taken place to identify and resolve blockages impeding the processing of criminal cases.

“These engagements have been formalised under the leadership of the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, and will continue to take place on a frequent basis.”

He added that projects were underway to facilitate court processes through digitalisation, and many of these were at a developed stage which would soon proceed to roll-out.

“Protocols have been developed to ensure that courts operate as optimally as possible in the current Covid-19 context, and these include guidance on when and for how long court closures should take place.”

He added that a national plan to manage these backlogs was in the process of being developed in order to address the backlog.