Backlog Courts Speeding Up Justice and Taking the Strain off Regional Courts

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Hishaam Mohamed

In response to the strain on some of the Western Cape court rolls, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, in partnership with the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS), came up with an innovative solution to drastically reduce the court case backlogs across the province.

Backlog courts, under the Case Backlog Reduction Project, which focus on finalising long-outstanding cases and speeding up justice considerably, have been a successful intervention over the past two years, as the statistics point to a significant decrease in the case backlog numbers at the regional courts where they were implemented.

Because the backlog courts provide additional capacity to the current regional courts, they can now also focus on finalising their own trial matters more speedily, so creating a double impact.

Regional courts deal with more serious matters and can now impose life sentences. Judicial processes, in particular where criminal matters are concerned, are lengthy and involved when put to the task of ensuring that justice is served. In the Western Cape, as much as in other provinces, capacity constraints exist, whether in relation to the prosecutor, legal aid representative or court presiding officer, which, together with an overburdened criminal justice system, have led to delays in finalising some cases.

Most cases in the district courts are processed within six months, while in the regional and high courts the expected timeframe is within nine and 12 months respectively. If the cases are outstanding for longer, they are considered to be "backlog cases" and are fast tracked through various interventions.

To co-ordinate such interventions, with the regional courts as the focus area where most backlogs occur, the government's JCPS initiated the Case Backlog Reduction Project with effect from November 2006. This has entailed providing additional persons (as prosecutors, legal aid representatives or magistrates) operating in additional courts, specifically dedicated as "backlog courts". Backlog courts have been established in the last two years at regional courts in Bluedowns, Atlantis, Paarl, Bellville, Goodwood, Khayelitsha, George, Worcester and Somerset West.

As the workload and corresponding capacity of the existing regional courts, the number of outstanding cases on the court rolls, the negative impact on service delivery, remain a concern, our Case Backlog Reduction project continues to provide support. …