The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today heard that the Department of Justice is experiencing challenges with vacancies. Five of top management posts vacant. Department was in Parliament today to brief the committee on its 2018/2019 annual report.

The committee heard that key challenges includes ongoing budget cuts, which mean that the department has had to reconsider its priorities and channel funds to the most pressing areas. Not all vacant posts could be filled. Filling of posts was largely directed towards service points, with an emphasis on the judiciary, prosecution and other court-based officials.

Cost cutting also meant that branches such as the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor had difficulties with the filling of level 10 posts due to the ongoing moratorium on filling such posts. Despite limited human resources, the department nonetheless assisted with the establishment and management of commissions, namely the Commission on Allegations of State Capture and the Public Investment Corporation Commission.

The committee heard that a number of internal investigations were undertaken in response to affidavits filed at the State Capture Commissions, resulting in a more challenging working environment in a number of units. With regards to leadership within the department, five of the 10 top management posts were either vacant or filled in an acting capacity.

The committee heard that there has been a significant increase in legal costs, mainly due to commissions. There has also been a significant increase in the cost of building leases, security, water and electricity due higher-than-inflation increases. Average growth below 0% confirms the implementation of the department’s cost containment measures.

In addition during the 2018/2019 financial year under review, 15 sexual offences courtrooms were re-established in line with the sexual offences courts model. By the end of 2018/19, a total of 90 regional courts had been upgraded to sexual offences courtrooms. A further 10 are being planned for the 2019/2020 financial year.

 A total of 12 CCTV systems in regional courts were upgraded in 2018/2019 in line with the minimum standards of the sexual offices court model. Close circuit TV enables witnesses to testify in a separate room should this be deemed necessary.

For the 2018/19 financial year, a total of 19 688 cases on the National Register for Sexual Offences cases were ring-fenced for validation. However, 4 199 of those cases verified were not included in the National Register for Sexual Offences cases register due to duplication, no court orders and other problems. Identified errors were referred to courts for verification. During the 2018/19 financial year, the department briefed counsel on matters to the value of R930 614 877, of which R775 226 324 was paid to previously disadvantaged counsel.

Committee Member Ms Nomathemba Maseko-Jele questioned the statistics provided for domestic violence and said several discrepancies existed between the Auditor-General’s report and that of the Department of Justice.

Regarding concerns raised by the committee about the briefing of council, the department said it briefed female counsel to the value of R255 954 238.  A total of 5 171 of briefs were allocated to counsel whilst 2 109 of briefs were allocated to female counsel during the quarter under review. Committee Chairperson, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe has questioned the fact that the same counsel seem to receive briefs each time and that few women, especially African women, are briefed. Ms Maseko-Jele also said more support should be given to women in this regard.

Committee Member Mr Werner Horn expressed concern regarding the department’s irregular expenditure. He also mentioned that the audit committee had previously warned that the department was slow to respond to issues.

Rajaa Azzakani
16 October 2019