MP flags court backlogs compounded by 'trivial' cases under Covid-19 rules
Court backlogs are a problem made worse by the spate of 'trivial' charges related to the lockdown regulations. People are reluctant to pay fines as they come with a criminal record so instead opt to fight the charges in court, thus exacerbating the backlogs.
Image: 123RF/NIRAT MAKJANTUK
Deputy minister of justice John Jeffery has told parliament that backlogs in district and regional courts have increased by 6% and 11% respectively over the past year.
Members of parliament’s portfolio committee on justice received a presentation from the office of the chief justice – which has jurisdiction over high courts - where they expressed great concern with the backlog in courts being exacerbated by the limited operations bought about by the lockdown.
The African Christian Democratic Party's Steven Swart said the justice system was proving to be obsessed with dealing with petty offences, as opposed to bringing serious criminals to book.
“From the experiences I am picking up, people are very concerned about the increase in backlogs because of courts not sitting. So again, I would like that question to be answered.
“Civil and criminal trials, when is it anticipated that they will recommence?
“Second, the issue of the backlogs, it always was there. Matters have been postponed but now you are having a massive amount of people being arrested for what are, in my view, trivial offences. And they are now adding to that backlog because every person who steps out or is five minutes late from the so-called curfew gets a fine and if they pay that admission of guilt, they get a criminal record. Obviously, they are going to contest each one of those and go to trial in the magistrate’s court,” Swart said.
Jeffrey conceded that the growing backlog was a “concern” for the department.
“It is not surprising but is concerning that the backlog has increased in district and regional courts. I don’t have figures for the high courts from this time or to the end of April last year to the end of April this year. Just in the district courts it was 19.73% in April last year and is now 26.2%. And in the regional courts it was 57.29% last year and it has gone up to 68.77%. That is of concern but it is obviously understandable in the context of the courts not functioning anywhere near efficiency,” the deputy minister said.
MPs were assured that chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was ready to meet them and that logistics needed to be ironed out from the side of the portfolio committee.
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