Oversight exposes Pretoria Courts’ dysfunction

Issued by Adv. Glynnis Breytenbach MP – DA Shadow Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development
08 Apr 2024 in News

Note to editors: Please find the link containing the oversight’s pictures and videos here.

DA Shadow Minister for Correctional Services, Janho Engelbrecht MP, and I conducted an oversight visit at Pretoria Magistrates’ and Pretoria High Court on Friday, 05 April.

The focus of the oversight was to look at the infrastructure of the court system, how the public interacts with the justice system, and make recommendations to the Minister of Justice on how things can be improved.

We arrived at Pretoria Magistrate Court at 10h30 on Friday and immediately noticed the lack of court staff in their offices and the many courtrooms standing empty, with only the maintenance and divorce courts still operating. Court personnel – at least those that we could track down – explained to us that on Fridays they start 30 minutes early, at 8h30, and end their day at 10h00. From 10h00 onward, it appeared that most of the courtrooms at the Pretoria Magistrates’ Court would sit empty for the rest of the day. For the record, normal magistrates’ court hours are 09h00 to 15h00, from Monday to Friday, with no exceptions.

Pretoria High Court was not much better, with the courtrooms also standing empty.

This is a shocking waste of court time in light of the growing delays and backlogs in countless criminal and civil matters still pending before our courts, with litigants sometimes waiting for months, others for years on end, to finalise their cases. These empty courts could easily be used to reverse these backlogs if only there was a will to do so.

It also became apparent that most of the court’s integral public and procedural service offices, including that of the civil taxation clerk, appeals reception, the children’s court clerks and the maintenance clerk were all empty and locked up, which begs a simple question: where on earth are all the staff?

On top of this, at Pretoria Magistrate Court, except for one lucky lavatory, none of the toilets in the building had any paper and many were simply marked “out of order”. Rubbish was sitting in black bags in the hallways and hazardous cleaning supplies were left out in public spaces. In one office, court files were in complete disarray, seemingly with no filing system to speak of. We can only speculate as to how the files that were behind closed doors were kept.

The DA is committed to ensuring that every court in the country functions optimally, and to restoring public trust in the justice system. The DA believes that the courts should have budgetary autonomy, which allows them to make necessary infrastructure improvements and should be rid of the system of cadre deployment to ensure that all court officials, individuals tasked with the most important duties to serve and guide the public through an often intimidating and confusing justice system, are appointed on merit.

The DA will contact the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, and other relevant senior members of government, to make recommendations on the findings of the oversite visit.