Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

‘Too much work’ – Zondo says judges don’t get two cheques amid complaints, reserved judgments delays

Concerns have been raised about the number of reserved judgments that have been left for long periods.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says the workload faced by judges can be overwhelming at times, noting that the sheer volume of cases often makes it difficult to deliver timely judgments.

Zondo was speaking during a media briefing following the conclusion this year’s judges conference on Thursday.

Complaints against judges

The Chief Justice indicated that the conference was alive to the fact that there were concerns in the public that complaints against judges take long to be finalised.

“A lot of people have previously complained that complaints against judges take too long in a way which suggested that they thought that judges or the judiciary were the ones causing the delays,” the Chief Justice said.

He said one got the feeling that the public were thinking the judiciary was delaying the finalisation of complaints because there were matters against their colleagues.

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“There is absolutely no merit in any suggestion along those lines. So when people want to insinuate that judges are, so to speak, soft on their colleagues, they must do so after reading those judgments.

“Apart from that there are some delays that happen in the processing of judges, but [these] arise largely from the fact that in terms of the Judicial Service Commission Act, the composition of the Judicial Conduct Committee [JCC] is problematic in a sense that the number of matters that are allowed is very small. I think it’s about between five and seven people and you are talking about 250 or so judges,” Zondo explained.

Watch the briefing below:

The Chief Justice pointed out that the members of the JCC handled complaints “in addition to the case load that they carry in their own courts”.

“They don’t just sit and do Judicial Conduct Committee cases only, they have got their day jobs. They are members of the Supreme Court of Appeal, they are judges of the High Court and on top of their load they have got to do this.

“Maybe I should make it clear that judges when they do this work, they don’t get paid separately. I must say that because I was in the [State Capture] Commission, there were some people who thought I was being paid two cheques.”

He said while the JCC would work with retired judges to resolve the backlog of complaints, he pointed out that the JSC Act should be amended.

“[This] so as to allow the Judicial Conduct Committee to have many members so that complaints can be dealt with by many people. In that way, the burden of doing JCC cases will be shared among many and also they will be dealt with more expeditiously.”

Reserved judgments

Zondo further said concerns were raised about the number of reserved judgments in various courts for long periods.

“It has been emphasised that very often the delays in handing down judgments arises from a very heavy work load that judges are carrying.

“Obviously some are carrying more than others, but the conference acknowledges that it is important that judgments are handed down without any undue delays, but where there are delays, it is important that the situation is looked at properly because sometimes the problem is that there is simply too much work for judges.”

READ MORE: More than 150 judgments outstanding for more than six months – most recent report

According to the norms and standards for performance of judicial functions, judgments in both civil and criminal matters should generally not be reserved without a fixed date, though the court may decide to do so.

The guidelines further state that for “exceptional cases where it is not possible to do so, every effort shall be made to hand down judgments no later than three months after the last hearing”.

In June, a report from the office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) revealed that the list of reserved judgments was growing, with more than 180 cases awaiting a ruling for more than six months at the time the document was released.

Independent judiciary

Additionally, Zondo noted that the conference also agreed for a full independent judiciary.

He said the matter will be discussed between him and President Cyril Ramaphosa next week Wednesday.

“I have no doubt that if the executive had given this matter proper attention and responded the way they should, we would have long finalised the issue of a court administration model. The conference felt that this matter must be given urgent attention and I hoping that the matter will not drag for too long.”

He further noted that there seems to be an unwillingness from government to “let go” and allow magistrates to be moved from the Department of Justice to the OCJ.

“[The] conference felt very strongly that this needs to be given urgent attention so that the judiciary can all be under the Office of the Chief Justice and that speak to the issue of a single judiciary. Something that the executive is supposed to embrace as far as I know from a long time ago.”

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