Ngobo: SA courts need reform

2010-11-13 22:56

Johannesburg - South African courts need to improve their efficiency in order to increase the public's access to justice, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo said on Saturday.

"We need to re-examine the fundamentals of our justice system... the cumulative effect of (trial) delays... is the denial of justice," Ngcobo said in a speech prepared for the Law Society AGM in Rustenburg.

"In 2003, at the First Conference of Judges, I raised concerns about the delays in our civil justice system," he said.

"I was concerned because it took years for a civil matter to come on trial... these delays extended to the amount of time spent in courts on simple matters that should ordinarily last less than a day in court."

Ngcobo said that since taking office in 1999, he had learnt that delays extended to the delivery of judgements.


"I was greatly disturbed when I learned of the number of reserved judgements... I found this utterly unacceptable," he said.

"I consider delays in delivery of judgements to be especially troubling because the core function of a judge is to decide cases. If a judge fails to decide a case timeously, the judge fails to perform the very core of his or her judicial role."

Ngcobo said that as long as these delays persisted, lawyers and judges could not avoid accusations that the justice system had failed to deliver on the promise of access to justice.

"While we have had a number of commissions of enquiry into our justice system in the past- the Hoexter Commission and the Galgut Commission come to mind - a review of their reports demonstrates that we have been tinkering where comprehensive reform is needed," he said.

Ngcobo said he was challenged then to rethink court procedures, the way business was conducted in courts, the way courts were run and the type of service that was being rendered to clients and others.

He would also have to look at the way those who flouted the rules of procedure, as well judges who failed to deliver a timeous judgement, should be dealt with.

"Indeed we must take a hard look at how our system of justice is working and not working, and ask whether it is coping with the demands of our society now and whether it can cope with the demands of the future."

  • Ralph - 2010-11-13 23:39

    However correct the Judge is, how is this addressed. From personal experience a 2 day trial in the North Gauteng High Court the reserved judgment is still outstanding after 5 months. The same with the Labour Court. A 3 hour trial with a reserved judgment is still outstanding after more than 2 months. A previous trial took 45 minutes and the judgement was delivered after 3 1/2 months. Given section 31 and 35 of our Constitution this just does not correlate. The Judicial Service Commission is also of no help. They eventually responded after 6 months with: "It is in the Judges hands". Where to now?????????????????

  • makolad - 2010-11-14 06:34


      Arthur - 2010-11-14 19:09

      That is the problem!!!! They worry about trivial crap like spelling, the way files are bound etc instead of the real issue at hand being finalising the case before them!!!!

  • AllHoliday - 2010-11-14 18:06

    Agree totally with Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. Question is, now that we all know that, what is being done and when will it be done? I have noticed a tendancy among our polititions to acknowledge a problem and to then come up with the statement that they will look into the matter. Then there are endless meetings and delays..almost similar to the reserved judgements. We need leaders who can lead, who can take action, not lipservice! According to this article concern were raised in 2003 allready, its 7 years later and nothing has changed. Another tendancy is to acknowledge all the problems just before election time and to promise to make all the changes needed if they get elected. Once elected..NOTHING!!

  • Arthur - 2010-11-14 19:18

    Mr Ngcobo has held office for 11 years!!! What has he done to improve matters? I may be prejudiced but it certainly seems to have worsened as time went by!!!

  • bill - 2010-11-18 10:46

    How I hate this word reform.It is trotted out as a one size fits all by everyone in government, even comrade JZ who would reform the IMF,World Bank and sundry agencies that he has scant Knowledge of.What they should be talking about is improved efficiences and basic service delivery, but that would attract attention to corruption and various neo racist policies that are clearly not working.

  • Bootjie - 2011-03-21 11:08

    You bet a reorm is sorely needed because as things stand now, it's the judges who are in fact actively engaged in thwarting justice especially when govt officials are cited as respondents! They do this by first ensuring that such cases are assigned to them and from there go about committing all kinds of despicable conduct eg, condoning without just course all kinds of actions from these govt officials calculated to prolong the matter and at the end of it all, they then make an unlawful order which they never bother to provide a reason for! Almost 3 years after I formally requested for written reasons for an Order made at the Johannesburg Labour Court, I am still waiting for it and as such, I cannot appeal it. It's truly disgusting and frustrating and I for one have lost ALL respect for the judiciary!!!

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