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South Africa’s judiciary needs a 21st-century wake-up...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

South Africa’s judiciary needs an upgrade to the 21st century – immediately

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

The levers of justice just move too slowly. Anyone who has spent any time in a court can tell you how desperately in need of an upgrade all of the systems are.

If choosing the new Chief Justice were up to this lowly technology reporter, Dunstan Mlambo would get my vote. Obviously, he has the character and moral authority to be Chief Justice – unlike the intellectual ankle-biters and ethical bottom feeders who ‘interviewed’ him with baseless sexual accusations designed to smear him.

But more than anything else that piqued my attention were his comments about the necessary “modernisation” of the judiciary.

Modernising the judicial system is one of the most pressing problems in this country, to my mind.

The endless delays are maddening and unnecessary. The systems being used to manage the courts are from the Dark Ages, like Windows Millennium Edition. That bad.

“Modernisation is the way to go,” Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). “You can call me a judicial technocrat if you want to. I am as much a technocrat and administrator as I am a judge.”

I was thrilled to hear this. Our judiciary – while admirably holding its line against the unstoppable moral descent of our politicians, as this round of interviews demonstrated all too abjectly – is desperately in need of modernisation. Forget about the desperately needed State Capture cases and think about the real necessity of an updated judicial system: the mothers embroiled in time-consuming, mentally draining and utterly outdated court processes for simple child maintenance orders. This is the sector of society that needs the judicial system to get a little 21st-century wake-up.

The levers of justice just move too slowly. Anyone who has spent any time in a court can tell you how desperately in need of an upgrade all of the systems are.

All four candidates were world-class and it’s a sign of how healthy (in one way) the judiciary is to have such a choice of impressive jurists. Like Springbok loose forwards, South Africa is spoilt for choice when it comes to outstanding judges.

But the JSC appears not to have attracted such other talent – and has done more to damage the standing of the judiciary than most other factors.

The finest legal mind of a generation, considered so both locally and internationally, David Unterhalter is nowhere to be seen. It’s an embarrassment that the JSC is so wrought with political battles that he was left out of the last round of interviews for Constitutional Court judges. Another judge, Navi Pillay, who has displayed amazing courage in dealing with political hot-potato cases, was hounded and humiliated by former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng himself. It was a disgraceful display of partisanship and point-scoring that will (rightly) forever be Mogoeng’s legacy.

The first thing that needs to be modernised is the JSC itself, which has been abused by misogynists to attack Pillay for doing her job and has almost certainly destroyed the rest of her career.

What are both of their sins in the eyes of the highly politicised JSC commissioners? Doing their jobs properly and finding against #PresidunceZuma and #CommanderInThief Julius Malema. “There is loss of confidence in the judiciary, loss of confidence in the justice system as well as the rule of law,” Mlambo said. “More worrying, the judiciary operates in a somewhat toxic environment – toxic in the sense that the judiciary is attacked on a number of fronts.

“You have unfounded claims of corruption against members of the judiciary. But more worrying is, I can tell you as head of the court, starting in the labour court and the high court, that there is corruption growing involving court operations in SA.”

The JSC hearings at the beginning of the week showed why this is the case, especially Mlambo’s pointed comments: “More worryingly, my scan revealed that the judiciary operates in a toxic environment, in the sense that it is attacked on a number of fronts. Its independence and impartiality are always at stake because it operates in a polarised political space, which results in unfounded claims against members.”

He might have been describing his own interview.

Arguably one of the judiciary’s operational problems is the chronic time-wasting. Lawyers and advocates can literally only be in one place at a time – hence the convoluted way cases are postponed until the legal representatives can physically be in court. In the age of Teams – which is thankfully the secure Microsoft platform favoured by the legal profession – the whole system can save infinite amounts of time by doing video calls.

Prisoner transports to and from the courts are often used for escapes – as the recent armed assault and escape of dangerous criminals demonstrated. This is a monumental waste of effort. Why schlep awaiting-trial prisoners to court when they can appear in a video call? The human capital spent transporting prisoners could be redeployed for something more meaningful.

Just about everyone who has used Microsoft or Google Cloud software suites can tell you how easy they are to use. It has suited the ANC and its institutionalised miscreants to keep the judiciary’s technology and systems stuck in purgatory, but this critical modernisation is as important to the rule of law as the Chief Justice. Can someone tell the JSC, please? DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • I was also sold on this by Mlambo as much as I also like The others. The courts are so slow that when people have to use them for more simple matters it’s so slow that people then resent the whole government.

  • Has DM asked the Pretoria Attorneys whether the Case Lines system actually works?Has it asked sbout obtaining trial dates?You may find interesting answers about these and related topics.After that re-write your opinion about modernising courts

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