Launching the inaugural Judiciary Annual Report at the Constitutional Court on Friday, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that the arm of the state performs well despite being chronically underfunded.
The report provides an overview of the state of the judiciary and the performance of the courts. Judicial leaders lauded the event on Friday as a historical day in providing public accountability.
“It bears emphasis that the judiciary is acutely underfunded in comparison to other arms of the state. We cannot even afford the annual judicial colloquium which other jurisdictions around the world hold without fail,” said Mogoeng, outlining efforts to overcome challenges in the system.
“Whenever you feel inclined to interrogate my performance as an individual, the performance of leaders of the judiciary, remember we have two arms of the state to be compared to. If you are inclined to reflect on how much you spend on any item, compare our budget, our responsibilities to the budget, and the responsibilities of the other arms of state,” he continued while delivering the keynote speech.
Mogoeng said the courts are meeting their responsibilities despite funding challenges. Of 152,944 civil cases received by country’s high courts in the last year, 106,936 were finalised. The high courts received 15,293 criminal matters and finalised 10,411.
The Supreme Court of appeal received 235 matters and finalised 223, excluding applications for leave to appeal. The Constitutional Court received 437 matters and finalised 295. Mogoeng noted a number of interventions to improve court efficiency.
North West Judge President Monica Leeuw said of Friday’s event: “Today’s session is the first session of its kind in the history of the judiciary in South Africa. The Judiciary Annual Report is a reflection of where we are now as the judiciary and how we are doing in fulfilling our constitutional obligation of improving access to justice.”
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said the report is a sign of how far the system has come in the democratic era. Mogoeng said it “marks a turning point” in judicial accountability.
The chief justice emphasised the importance of judicial independence: “Judicial independence is indispensable and adherence to the oath of office is just as critical and this is why – judicial officers must neverseek to be celebrities; they must neverbe populist in their approach to the issues because if they are tempted to be what is going to happen is injustice masquerading as justice.
“People will just be checking what is in the media, what did the analysts say, what is the popular view on social media and then position themselves to decide in a manner that will enjoy public approval regardless of what the Constitution and the law demands of them and that would be corrupt injustice,” said Mogoeng.
He also gave a stirring call to protect the freedom of the courts around the world.
“Wherever judicial independence is challenged, we are duty bound as a contribution to strengthening judicial (…) independence and accountability, constitutionalism, the rule of law and entrenching democracy, to step in and offer whatever experience and wisdom our privileged position has enabled us to gather. We dare not be selfish,” said Mogoeng.
The chief justice said the judiciary needs to be responsible for its own administrative affairs “regardless of how many times our proposals are rejected”, currently led by the department of justice.
Mogoeng pleaded for the government to urgently fund and fill the 665 vacant prosecutor posts in the NPA and said the higher courts must continue to transform. Of the 250 judges above the magistrate level, 184 are black and 90 are women.
The chief justice also called for an urgent stress management programme to be offered to all judicial officers.
“They go through so much as a result of some of the traumatising cases, like gruesome rape cases, murder and very difficult divorce matters that affect young children or the custody of young children and their well-being that they have to handle from time to time. It cannot be left to an individual judicial officer to fend for herself or himself.” DM