Impact of COVID-19 on justice system under the spotlight

Impact of COVID-19 on justice system under the spotlight
21 May 2020

As part of the continuity plan of the justice system, the justice and correctional services minister, Ronald Lamola, indicated that government will consider the implications (short-and medium-term) of the COVID-19 pandemic for the needs of the people as it relates to justice services.

The minister announced this in the Political Overview on the Portfolio Strategic Plans for the period 2020 to 2025 and Annual Performance Plan for the 2020/21 Financial Year presented to a virtual committee meeting in parliament.

Other issues to be assessed and medium-term solutions and action plans produced include ramping up the delivery of services after the pandemic; the main challenges for ensuring the accessibility of justice services during the National Disaster period and thereafter; the adaptations that should take place at the courts to ensure the continuation of court services in the current period while ensuring the safety of judicial officers, court users and court officials and how best to address the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in Correctional Centres.

The minister acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the justice system.

“It is clear that ability to deliver on our priorities will be curtailed by the advent of COVID-19 – we are experiencing challenges in areas where there were none before and this forces us to think outside the box and adapt our approach accordingly.”

In terms of the plans of the correctional services department, the minister pointed out that the “efficacy of our parole system requires us to pay particular attention to how the system as whole links up”.

He added that the overhaul of the Correctional Services Act will help address issues of this nature.

Revision of legislation relating to mandatory minimum sentencing and duration of sentences, imposed bail protocols and provisions, eligibility for early release, and non-custodial sentencing as an appropriate sanction is on the cards.

The review of the Criminal Procedure Act and the Correctional Services Act will also get underway this year.

“I am sure that, Honourable Members, will agree with me that the Criminal Procedure Act was promulgated with a different society in mind. The overcrowding in our remand detention facilities speaks to this. Moreover, the Criminal Justice system needs to place victims at the centre of justice. Through legislative reforms, we will attend to this.”

As regards land reform, the minister indicated that the process to transfer the legal representation function (and related budget) currently undertaken by the Land Rights Management Facility in the agriculture, land reform and rural development department to Legal Aid SA will be undertaken this year.

This will place Legal Aid SA at the centre of efforts towards attaining land justice in South Africa.

The minister also plans to table the Draft Land Court Bill in parliament this year.

The draft bill will “broaden the mandate of the Land Claims Court and create permanent judges to enable the court to effectively adjudicate in land disputes in this country”.

Three amendment bills are also being drawn up proposing amendments to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Procedure Act and legislation regulating minimum sentencing.

The proposed amendments will combat the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.

Work will also be undertaken to review, modernise and improve South Africa’s extradition regime and the mutual legal assistance framework to “ensure effectiveness and enhance collaboration with other States in the fight against crime in general”.

The minister also confirmed that the introduction of Bills to replace the Magistrates Act, 1993, and the Magistrates’ Courts Act, 1944, remains an absolute priority for 2020/21 in the interests of access to courts as well as the optimal functioning of courts.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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