1 October 2014
Staff and administrative functions attached to South Africa’s superior courts will be transferred to the office of the Chief Justice, Justice Minister Michael Masutha said at a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The transfers from the Department of Justice to the Office of the Chief Justice, which are set to begin today, would go a long way to enhancing the institutional independence of the judiciary, Masutha said.
Masutha said the decision to transfer the courts to the Office of the Chief Justice was founded on constitutional guidance: “The government appreciates that the independence of the courts and the rule of law can only thrive in a constitutional setting where there is clear separation of powers with appropriate checks and balances.”
The Office of the Chief Justice was established under the Public Service Act by President Jacob Zuma in 2010 “soley to provide administrative support to the Chief Justice and other Heads of Courts to ensure that they discharge their management of judicial functions in courts effectively”.
Legislation passed in August (the Seventeenth Amendment Act of 2012 and the Superior Courts Act of 2013) places all judicial functions performed by judicial officers in all courts under the Chief Justice.
Judicial functions include when specific courts will sit, which judges will hear which cases, when and where cases will be heard, case-flow management and recesses.
The functions that will be transferred include those relating to the appointment of court managers, registrars, interpreters and clerks responsible for case-flow management and performance management.
“Save for the judicial functions of magistrates all other administrative management functions pertaining to the Lower Courts remain the responsibility of the department, and not the Office of the Chief Justice at this stage,” Masutha said.
The reforms also include the extension of the powers of the Constitutional Court to hear all matters, not only constitutional matters. This, Masutha said, underpinned the government’s commitment to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
Other implementations in the Chief Justice’s Office include provincial efficiency committees that bring together the judiciary, police, correctional services and prosecutors to effectively manage court case flows and improve the administration of courts.
In total, 1 486 members of staff would be transferred from the department to the Office of the Chief Justice, Masutha said.
Director-General Babalwa Musekwa said they would transfer a pro rata sum of R1.4- billion, which is the budget for the year.
She said plans for the office to get its separate vote in the 2015/16 financial year were on track.