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The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs has emphasised the need to strengthen the legal services of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to resolve the ever-increasing cost of legal cases. The Committee was getting a report from the department on the status of litigation against the department.

The department reported that all in all there are 3 874 litigation cases against the department for the 2016/2017 financial year. This is compared to the 1 894 and 3 857 in the previous three years respectively. These cases have amounted to a contingent liability of R2.074bn against the department. Contingent liability is a potential liability that may occur, depending on the outcome of an uncertain further event, in this case, the outcome of a civil suit against the department.  

The Committee highlighted the need to engage the National Treasury to ensure that the legal unit is empowered with human resources that enable the department to respond quickly and resolve some of the legal issues similar to the process that led to the closure of the Nelspruit office. 

The Committee was informed that the litigation unit in the department which is responsible for dealing with civil litigation by or against the department, as well as legal enquiries and legal opinions pertaining to possible civil litigation by and against the department only has a Director, three Senior Legal Admin Officer and four Legal Admin Officers to deal with all litigations. This posed a challenge for the department as this group had to deal with a large volume of complex cases.

Ideally the department suggested that it could assist to have a legal person at provincial level in all provinces to deal with cases at that level.  The challenge is with collecting legal costs in cases where costs have been awarded in favour of the department. “In instances where costs have been awarded in favour of the department, the department is unable to recover such costs, as applicants are indigent foreigners and in most instances, asylum seekers,” said Mr Mkhuseli Apleni, the Director-General of the DHA.

In order to address this, the department addressed correspondence to few identified attorneys who regularly litigate against the department, particularly those who bring litigation for non-adjudication/delay in adjudicating immigration permits/visas to provide lists of clients’ outstanding applications, to avoid unnecessary litigation.

By Malatswa Molepo

7 November 2017