Keynote address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, MP, (Adv) at the Annual General Meeting of the Cape Law Society at Flamingo Casino Kimberly on 30 October 2015
Judge Xola Petse of the Supreme Court of Appeal
President of the Cape Law Society Mr Ashraf Mahomed
Kimberley Circle Chairperson Mr Daniel Pretorius
Director of Public Prosecutions Adv Ivy Thenga
Professor Graeme Bloch
Mr Krish Naidoo
Member of the Board of Control of the Attorneys Fidelity Fund Mr Silus Nkanunu
Representatives from the Companies Tribunal
Representatives of other professional bodies
Members of the legal profession
Ladies and Gentleman
It is a singular honour and privilege to have been invited to come and address this august occasion of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Cape Law Society. On 26 October 1917, 98 years ago, a great giant who strode the globe like a colossus, a mind whose thoughts have opened the doors to our liberty, a lawyer’s gentle voice whose measured words of reason shook the thrones of tyrants, OR Tambo was born. This AGM provides the opportunity to reflect on the contribution of one of the most revered son of the soil who, together with world icon Nelson Mandela, sacrificed their law firm and joined the struggle against Apartheid. It is through their sacrifice and that of many other that we attained the democracy that we have come to enjoy today.
After his marriage to Adelaide Tambo, he was going to train for the ministry in Cape Town but God had other plans for him to fight in the political liberation of his people. So the loss for the Western Cape was a massive gain to the country and the world.
We therefore join the world in celebrating the birthday of the longest serving President of the ruling party, the African National Congress and hope that this important gathering will ensure his legacy is sustained as we work towards an accessible justice system.
As you are aware this AGM happens against the backdrop of very important reforms to the judicial and legal land scape in South Africa.
It is encouraging that the program is packed with so many legal pundits who will surely add much needed value to the discourse on a number of topical issues that are being ventilated in various fora within the
legal field. The enactment of the Legal Practice Act in 2014 and its coming into operation on 1 February this year is one of the significant milestones in the transformation of the justice system. Immediately after the Act came into operation I convened the first meeting of the National Legal Forum on the Legal Profession as I am entrusted by law to do so. My designation of two women practitioners to the male-dominated National Forum and the subsequent appointment of Adv Kgomotso Moroka, SC as the Chairperson attest to the ANC Government’s commitment to the transformation of the Legal Sector.
With the advent of constitutional democracy the entire judicial system required a complete overhaul so as to establish a caring justice system that resonates in the Freedom Charter. Major reforms have been brought about by the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment of 2012 and the Superior Courts Act of 2013 which were enacted by the fourth administration. The Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act in particular affirmed the Chief Justice as the Head of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court as the uppermost court in the land. Through this affirmation the Chief Justice is empowered to develop norms and standards that ensure that the Judiciary caries-out its mandate diligently and expeditiously and thereby enhances access to justice for the all people who look up to the courts for legal redress. Again, through these constitutional amendments the Constitutional Court has become the nerve centre of our evolving jurisprudence.
Importantly, the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment provided a constitutional framework for the enactment of the Superior Courts Act which has not only changed the architecture of the Superior Courts, but has also established a blueprint that will guide the restructuring of the Lower Courts which has started to unfold. Through the Superior Courts Acts we have established the Office of the Chief Justice as a separate national department that provides administrative support to the Judiciary as an independent arm of the State.
To give effect to our undertaking to improve access to justice, on 1 December 2014, we commenced with the implementation of the Rationalisation of Magisterial Districts Project which is aimed at aligning the areas of jurisdiction of all courts with the new constitutional dispensation. The rationalisation project is part of the broader Access to Justice Programme. Through the rationalisation project we aim to promote territorial access to ensure that communities are able to access courts closest to the areas of their residents.
Save for minor challenges that are being addressed, the commencement of the rationalization of courts was implemented successfully in respect of the Gauteng and North West Provinces. We are currently rolling out the project to the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The construction of the two Divisions of the High Court in the latter provinces is part of the rollout of the Access to Justice Programme. I am pleased that the Limpopo Division will commence operations soon. I have just consulted with the Judge President of the Division, Judge President Makgoba and the Judicial Service Commission regarding the determination of the jurisdictional area of the Division and its Thohoyandou local seat and will be promoting the matter with Cabinet this coming month.
As part of implementing the rationalisation project in this province we will be prioritising the establishment of local seats to address in particular, the uniquely Northern Cape challenge of the vast landscape and thinly spread human settlements. This will results in the construction of a local seat at the strategic point which many had suggested that it could be Upington or Springbok. This is a significant milestone by the ANC led government because it alleviates the untold hardship endured by our people for many years because of the spatial injustices of the past. We will consult the local stakeholders and community to take an informed decision in this regard.
The rationalisation project creates a blueprint for alignment of other institutions that are part of the broader judicial system, including the legal profession. Part of the institutional reforms advanced by the Legal Practice Act is the requirement for the creation of Provincial Legal Council for each province. This therefore calls for the Cape Law Society to split into to two in accordance to give effect to the provincial divide. I am certain that with the establishment of the local seat of the High Court and construction of more courts to address the spatial challenges in this province the number of practitioners will increase over time. The approach and manner of achieving this objective is a matter that the National Forum and the legal profession itself will grapple with. It is important that the legal profession itself contribute to the rewriting of this narrative. This is a significant milestone by the ANC led government because it alleviates the untold hardship endured by our people for many years because of the spatial injustices of the past.
Ladies and Gentleman
The State is the biggest consumer of legal services in South Africa, and its litigation account runs into billions of rands annually. However, it is evident that, when attorneys and advocates are briefed to act on behalf of the State, the cake is not shared equitably among the diverse constituencies of practitioners, with Black and female practitioners being the worst affected.
We have a target of 76% of briefs to be given to Black and female practitioners. If 76% of the briefs are going to previously disadvantaged individuals then why are the results not showing this? The most glaring shortfall in the Bar figures is with regard to African women. We need a target within the Previously Disadvantaged category for African women. In fact, we need to break down the 76% and set targets for each group.
We have, as a Department, taken bold steps to increase the allocation of briefs to competent previously disadvantaged individuals. We must ensure that briefs are given as widely as possible, in other words, that it’s not the same people who are continuously briefed and that female and Black practitioners are exposed to many different types of work, so as to build expertise in a variety of areas.
The State Attorney Act was recently amended to allow an opportunity that I make policy, in consultation with Cabinet, regarding the management of litigation for, and on behalf of the State. We have taken a decision to further amend the State Attorney Act to give the incumbent of the office of the Solicitor-General sufficient authority to champion the changes that we all desire. Often government comes will progressive policies that suit every element of the National Development Plan but the devil lies in its implementation. I have since commissioned the Department to prepare the desired policy and a comprehensive plan for its implementation which we will tease out at the Colloquium I envisage for later this year. We will engage with your Society and other organisations within the legal profession regarding the colloquium.
As I conclude, let me thank all legal practitioners, in particular attorneys for the generosity and in the spirit of ploughing back to the community, for their contribution through various community service initiatives. The services you provide as presiding officers in the Small Claims Court and other fora within the justice sector where you provide pro bono services lie at the heart of access to justice. We will always be indebted to you.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your deliberations.
I thank you.