Top judge concerned about judiciary’s lack of resources from government

South Gauteng High Court Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland is unhappy with the government’s lack of provision of resources to the judiciary. Picture: Dimpho Maja/Independent Newspapers

South Gauteng High Court Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland is unhappy with the government’s lack of provision of resources to the judiciary. Picture: Dimpho Maja/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 21, 2024


SOUTH Gauteng High Court Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland has expressed his disappointment with Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola’s office for failing to provide adequate resources to the country's legal profession.

Judge Sutherland accused the government of indefinitely taking the legal profession for granted.

”The government cannot indefinitely take the legal profession for granted and expect them to donate the resources that they neglect to supply.

“The indifference from the ministry of justice on this long-standing issue is, at best, disappointing,” he wrote on March 26 to his colleagues and several state departments and entities as well as legal practitioners’ representative bodies in a bid to address challenges with the high court’s Road Accident Fund (RAF) default judgment roll.

According to Judge Sutherland, last year the RAF default judgment roll was introduced to alleviate the problem of the excessively long lead time for the hearing of such cases.

The model entailed setting down 200 default judgment cases to heard by four pro bono (skills-based volunteering) acting judges and was wholly dependent on legal practitioners volunteering to undertake what was an onerous week for zero recompense.

”This was a huge ask and the profession, especially the Johannesburg Bar, responded with enormous generosity. The call was for 40 practitioners per term to perform this task.

“There were some who gave more than a single week, and several who volunteered to act term after term. I cannot express sufficiently the appreciation I have for all who so selflessly participated,” he said.

Judge Sutherland added that this was a radical model to arrest a serious problem stemming from the under-capacitation of the courts.

”The model has, perhaps predictably, proven to be unsustainable over the long term. The appetite to sacrifice a week’s earning capacity is self-evidently subject to limitations.

“This has manifested itself in the lack of response to serve in this capacity during the second term of 2024. This is no rebuke of the practitioners, but simply facing up to reality,” he explained.

As a result of the lack of judges, according to Judge Sutherland, the procedure in the RAF default judgment court will with effect from the third term of 2024 consist of 50 cases before one judge and this will regrettably push out the lead time.

In instances where less than four judges are rostered, each will be allocated in the order that the cases randomly appear on the published roll the 50 cases each.

The Office of the Chief Justice has been hit by Cabinet-approved reductions amounting to R446.6 million and plans to minimise the impact of the cuts by implementing cost-containment measures such as reducing travel and filling only critical vacant posts, according to documents released during Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s budget speech in February.

Outgoing Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s office is responsible for the administration of superior courts – the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, High Courts as well as specialised courts such as Labour and Labour Appeal Courts, the Land Claims Court, the Competition Appeal Court and the Electoral Court – which adjudicate various matters excluded from the high and lower courts’ jurisdiction.

In addition, the office also provides funding for the activities and operations of the courts and administrative and technical support including monitoring their overall performance.

The department of justice and constitutional development also faces Cabinet-approved reductions of up to R5 billion over the next three years although its budget will increase from R23bn in 2023/24 to R26.3bn in 2026/27 due to additional allocations of R4.2bn to cater for the costs of the 2023/24 public sector wage agreement.

Last month, Chief Justice Zondo, whose terms end on August 31, complained that the expansion of the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction was not accompanied by any increase in the human resources necessary to deal with such an increase in its workload.

He was addressing concerns raised by following the appointment of retired Constitutional Court justices Zak Yacoob and Johan Froneman to render support services to apex court judges.

Chief Justice Zondo warned that due to the failure to increase the Concourt’s resources the primary victims of the problems he raised were litigants before the apex court, the adjudication of whose cases is delayed unfairly as a result.

He said an increase in resources to the Concourt to assist would resolve the problem of delays.

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