Home South African Civil society groups raise concerns over Department of Justice budget cuts

Civil society groups raise concerns over Department of Justice budget cuts

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Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola said the budget cuts would obstruct the expansion of specialised courts for commercial crimes and hinder the full implementation of gender-based violence legislation.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola has announced budget cuts for his department. Picture: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

CIVIL society organisations are concerned that cuts to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development budget will have a detrimental impact on the essential services it provides.

The department has been allocated R21.6 billion for the 2024/25 period.

The IFP’s Professor Themba Msimang, who sits on Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, put a question to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola asking him how budget cuts would affect programmes run by his department.

In his response, Lamola said the budget cuts would obstruct the expansion of specialised courts for commercial crimes and hinder the full implementation of gender-based violence (GBV) legislation.

“A significant increase in case backlogs is anticipated, with an estimated additional 150,000 cases,” he said, adding that delays in processing maintenance cases and administering estates would negatively affect beneficiaries dependent on these funds.

He said the State Attorney’s capacity to settle cases and reduce liabilities would be impeded, which could lead to potential losses and increased state expenditure.

According to the minister, the budget cuts will severely disrupt the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) progress in handling complex prosecutions, particularly those involving state capture.

Other negative consequences include reducing the extent of protection services for prosecutors and closing a training programme for aspiring prosecutors.

“(The cuts) will impede the expansion of Thuthuzela Care Centres, which were introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape and gender-based violence strategies,” Lamola said.

Alison Tilley, of civil society organisation Judges Matter, said the organisation was extremely concerned about the budget cuts, as the services provided by the justice department were central to people’s access to justice.

“The number of magistrates and judges needs to be increased urgently, and there is no provision for that,” she said.

Kgomotso Mophulane, communications and strategic information manager at Sonke Gender Justice, said the cuts would impede the fight against gender-based violence and femicide.

“The budget cuts are a reflection of the need to incorporate a gender-responsive budgeting framework in all areas of government, so that there is an understanding of how such budget cuts in the long run have greater impact on marginalised groups, including women, children and persons with disabilities as victims of GBV,” she said.

Mophulane added that these cuts would also mean the sustainable development goals’ “leave no one behind” target would not be met. In particular, there would be a shortfall of goal 5, which seeks to empower women and girls.

Gareth Newham, head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said the cuts were worrying because the foundation of any successful state was the rule of law, which entailed the state’s ability to provide legal services, enforce the law and fight crime and corruption.

“When you invest in criminal justice, anti-corruption investigations and prosecution systems, you end up saving money, because there is a huge deterrent effect if you improve the capability of the state to hold people accountable for crime and corruption,” he said.

He added that, in relation to the NPA, well-funded asset forfeiture processes and investigations result in money being returned to the state.

“We have seen billions of rand returned because of that, so it is incredibly short-sighted to cut funding … and expect to improve the situation,” he said.

Newham said the system would become more overloaded, resulting in fewer investigations, pervasive corruption, and much more public money lost and wasted.

Msimang could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

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