South Africa: Judicial System Shows Signs of Decay

Judges and lawyers who care must stop it

We are fortunate that during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the judiciary remained largely “uncaptured”. But for a long time, warning signs of rot have been setting in.

The fault lies not only with the judges, but with the justice system – from police failures to the Legal Practice Council, the Judicial Service Commission, the Office of the Chief Justice and the Minister of Justice.

Here are a few examples that we have reported, investigated, or are directly involved with:

For months, almost no cases were heard at Parow Sex Offenses Court due to broken stenography machines. No one took responsibility for fixing them. Neither the Ministry of Justice, nor the Chief Justice’s office, nor the Parow Regional Court seemed the least bit concerned when we contacted them.

A murder trial at Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court was postponed – and it was not the first time – because the court ran out of paper to photocopy.

It took more than 15 months for an acting High Court judge in the Western Cape to deliver a vital judgment on emergency accommodation. We frequently report extremely late judgments.

In April, that judgment was delivered by an acting judge of the Western Cape High Court. We invite you to browse it. Many high school students, not to mention lawyers, would be embarrassed to do something so incompetent.

It took five years for the NPA to get a guilty verdict against a teacher who sexually abused a student. The case was repeatedly adjourned for the wrong reasons. Unnecessary adjournments are a common practice in South African courts, and lawyers and judges are to blame.

We took the Legal Practice Council to court for failing to act against a corrupt lawyer who committed a forgery. Our inbox is flooded with complaints about this moribund institution. As one eminent lawyer told us: “I don’t know if there is anything the Legal Practice Council has done since its inception that has not been tainted with incompetence, cowardice or stupidity. .

The Judicial Service Commission, particularly as evidenced by recent public interviews it has conducted, has become hostage to the political whims of the EFF. He failed to hold corrupt judges like John Hlophe to account. It is shameful that Hlophe remained Presiding Judge of the Western Cape High Court for 22 years.

The Office of the Chief Justice was established under the direction of Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who used it as his personal travel agency, resulting in excessive expenditure.

The justice minister has given an inadequate explanation for his role in his former law firm’s botched investigation into lottery corruption, for which he was awarded millions of rand. There should have been at least an investigation, if not the resignation of the minister.

Of course, we also frequently report judgments in which courts have worked, judges have diligently applied their minds to complex ethical issues and rendered decisions that serve justice. But there are many other examples of failure.

The situation will get worse unless good lawyers and judges, who surely constitute the majority, start taking steps to reverse the rot. They need to join forces with organizations like Judges Matter and speak out more frequently when their colleagues and institutions fail the justice system.

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