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Loadshedding, Covid-19 led to mixed performances for SA courts, says Zondo

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Loadshedding, Covid-19 led to mixed performances for SA courts, says Zondo

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo

24th February 2023

By: News24Wire

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Loadshedding, Covid-19 and too few judges had an adverse effect on the courts during the last financial year.

Ten of the 13 superior courts' performance targets were met for 2021/22.

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This was reported at the release of the fifth annual Judicial Report on Friday at the Constitution Court in Johannesburg.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced the 77% achievement of the courts' targets.

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The three targets not met were:

  • Percentage of Competition Appeal Court cases finalised - 50% of cases, while the target was 85%.
  • Percentage of Land Claims Court cases finalised - 49% of cases, while the target was 60%.
  • The reduction of criminal case backlogs - the courts achieved 49%, while the target was 30% (where the target is to get to a lower percentage of cases in the backlog).

Zondo said the Competition Appeal achieved 50% performance by finalising three of six cases, representing an under-achievement of 35%.

"This under-achievement is mainly due to the lack of permanent appointed judges, as judges assigned to the court, are not readily available."

The Land Claims Court finalised 98 of its 201 cases, an under-achievement of 11%.

"This is due to the fact that the work of the court was severely hampered by the combined impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and loadshedding during the period under review.

"Covid-19 negatively affected the court's ability to physically travel to adjudicate land claim trials, which could not be heard virtually.

"The absence of a generator until November 2022 meant that often cases could not be heard during the frequent bouts of loadshedding during the period under review.

"These challenges and a 35% increase in the caseload account for the number of cases that were able to be finalised over the period," Zondo said.

The chief justice added the judiciary was committed to the reduction and elimination of backlogs in various courts.

"This indicator aims mainly to improve the timely disposition of criminal cases, which is essential for the enhancement of public confidence in the justice system."

Zondo said the annual target for all superior courts aimed mainly to ensure the finalisation of criminal cases within 12 months from the date of the accused's first appearance in the High Court.

The total number of outstanding criminal cases in the various divisions of the High Court was 917, whereas the total number of backlog cases was 453, representing a backlog percentage of 49%.

The performance during the reporting period is an under-achievement of 19%.

According to the report, compared to the previous reporting period, the number of outstanding criminal trials increased by 5% compared to the 870 outstanding trials and 28% in the number of criminal case backlogs compared to the 353 reported criminal case backlogs.

"The reason for this increase is ascribed to logistical challenges mainly due to the continuous loadshedding, which had an adverse impact on the operations of the courts," said Zondo.

The performance of the Superior Courts from the target to the actual are as follows:

  • Percentage of Constitutional Court matters finalised: target - 70%, actual - 70%.
  • Percentage of Supreme Court of Appeal cases finalised: target - 80%, actual - 80%.
  • Percentage of Supreme Court of Appeal applications/petitions finalised: target - 80%, actual - 97%.
  • Percentage of Labour Appeal Court cases finalised: target - 80%, actual - 85%.
  • Percentage of Labour Appeal Court petitions finalised: target - 90%, actual - 100%.
  • Reduction percentage of criminal case backlogs (all High Court divisions): target - 30%, actual - 49%.
  • Percentage of all criminal cases finalised (all High Court divisions): target - 75%, actual - 89%.
  • Percentage of all civil cases finalised (all High Court divisions): target - 64%, actual - 88%.
  • Percentage of Labour Court cases finalised: target - 58%, actual - 60%.
  • Percentage of Electoral Court cases finalised: target - 90%, actual - 100%.
  • Percentage of Competition Appeal Court cases finalised: target - 85%, actual - 50%.
  • Percentage of Land Claims Court cases finalised: target - 60%, actual - 49%.
  • Percentage of reserved judgments finalised in all Superior Courts: target - 70%, actual - 75%

Zondo said the performance of the district courts had been excluded as the systems crash at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development affected the integrity of the data on the integrated case management system.

"As a result of this, it is not possible to have proper and accurate information. The leadership of the magistracy advised that such information should not be included in the report.

"It is regrettable that, once again, the performance of the district courts has to be excluded for a second year as the majority of members from the public are served by these courts.

"The judiciary depends on the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to get this problem solved as soon as possible," he added.

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