July 2015

New system to improve access to justice

Written by Albert Pule
The new case-flow management system implemented by the judiciary is easing the burden on court rolls and reducing the long wait for cases to be heard in court.

Case-flow management involves assigning and allocating cases to a judicial officer at the earliest opportunity so that the case can be managed efficiently and effectively to ensure it is finalised quickly.

A judicial officer is responsible for and has the power to facilitate, arbitrate, preside over, make decisions and take direction with regard to the application of the law.

According to the convener of the new system and Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Stevan Majiedt, the system has reduced the clogged case roll.

“A very good indication is the time parties have to wait to be assigned a trial date. In the larger divisions they would have to wait in excess of two years to be assigned a trial date and cases could take in excess of three years to finalise, due to postponements,” says Judge Majiedt.

A Judicial Case Flow Management Committee (JCFMC) consisting of judges from all divisions of the High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court leads the new system.

Pilot project

In 2012, a pilot project was launched in three of the biggest court divisions in the country, comprising five pilots sites, namely the high courts of Gauteng (North and South), the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg and Durban).

Judge Majiedt says since the implementation of the pilot, there has been a decrease in the waiting period of trials and in the number of cases on the roll in the three divisions, particularly at the Gauteng North High Court (Pretoria).

“In Gauteng, the waiting period for a trial date was reduced from one year to nine months at the start of the project. The Gauteng North High Court had 224 921 outstanding cases on the civil roll, which were reduced to 144 027 by February 2015.

“In the Western Cape, once certified trial ready, a trial date can be allocated for the following term.  Before the implementation of case-flow management, the waiting time for the allocation of a trial date was in excess of two years.”

Due to its success at the five pilot sites, the judiciary is planning to implement the system at lower courts.

“Separate from the pilot project at high courts, case-flow management has been taking place at the lower court level but not under the same directives as the pilot project.  The Chief Justice has expressed his wish to have the lower courts included in the project.

“Once the drafting committee has finalised its work the JCFMC will, with the Magistrates’ Commission and the leadership of the magistracy, investigate how best to implement judicial case flow management at lower courts,” explained Judge Majiedt.

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