Justice dept summoned to court after case postponed 69 times

2017-05-03 07:07
Magistrate's court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrate's court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Johannesburg – The regional head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in Gauteng, Emily Dhlamini, and its Director General, Vusi Madonsela, were on Tuesday subpoenaed to appear before the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court to explain why a particular matter had been postponed almost 70 times.

Speaking ahead of the court case, Dhlamini told News24 that this was not the first time they had been subpoenaed in terms of this case, which was related to a drug related matter dating back to 2009.

She said the case had been postponed three times due to the non-availability of a foreign language interpreter.

"The other times, the magistrates and prosecutors were not available and sometimes it was postponed for further investigation," said Dhlamini, adding that the first time it was postponed was due to the lack of an interpreter.

Dhlamini said what further compounds the issue was that the region has since implemented a new system where courts have to send the regional office a requisition form requesting a foreign language interpreter at the end of each postponement.

On March 31 the region terminated the contracts of all its foreign language interpreters in Johannesburg and Kempton Park areas.

Foreign language interpreters are now employed on a “need to have” basis.

Dhlamini said up until Tuesday's subpoena, the regional office had not been aware of a request for a foreign language interpreter.

“As of April 1, 2017, after the contracts for foreign interpreters were terminated, we issued a directive to all the courts that we will appoint foreign language interpreters on a case basis...”

‘There is a bit of a problem’

She said as soon as cases were postponed due to the language barrier, courts had to submit a request and a foreign language interpreter would be appointed for that particular case until its completion.

“Somewhere the directive of the regional office was not properly communicated but it is an internal matter and we are dealing with it just to make sure that we have the requisitions on a daily basis.

“Requisitions will be given to the principal interpreter if a matter has been postponed because of a language issue. Our expectation is that once the principal interpreter has received all the requisitions, at the end of the day, [he will] send a request to the regional office.

“We will be able to deal with the requisitions in 12 hours.”

Dhlamini said there were interpreters who were willing to work on a daily basis but only when asked to do so.

“The fact that we do not get the requisitions from Johannesburg is the real reason why we are here. I admit that there is a bit of a problem and we are dealing with it. We have sent our officials from our Human Resources department in the regional office and they have been working here for the last two weeks consolidating all the requisitions.”

She said the department had expected the courts to deal with the matter.

“But we decided to send our own HR. They provide us with cases, so far we have received three cases where they are requesting us to approve the employment of a foreign interpreter on a casual basis.

“We have a system where we can see where cases are recorded as to why they have been postponed…This case has been going on for over eight years and it would be interesting to see why the case has been postponed so many times because I can tell you now that it is not because of foreign language interpreters.”

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

Dhlamini said it was important that cases were not postponed at all “because justice delayed is justice denied”.

“Cases must be finalised as soon as possible. But in doing that we also need to be very careful and if cases are taking too long to finalise because the police are dragging their feet, they should also be subpoenaed to appear before the magistrate to explain why they are taking so long to investigate matters.

“But there must be consistency, it cannot only be that we have a matter involving interpreters that the director general and the regional head are being subpoenaed. What happens when cases are postponed because of other repeated mistakes due to other stakeholders?”

However, Dhlamini did not think the matter had reached crisis point.

“We have issued a directive to all the courts on how to deal with the matter, it is only those courts that are not complying with the directive that end up with a crisis because people are being arrested on a daily basis and until they appear in court, you do not know which language [they need an interpreter for] until they make their first appearance in court.”

She said the court should immediately inform the regional court which language the accused speaks so that an interpreter can be allocated to the matter.

Valid paperwork

“We need the information because we need to verify certain information as well. We need to check that the people they are recommending are qualified and in possession of legal work permits.”

Dhlamini said the Department of Home Affairs expected the Justice Department to comply.

“We have found that some people that were recommended did not have the valid paperwork meaning that we cannot use those people in our courts, we cannot have an interpreter in court who is in the country illegally.”

She said the department was working very closely with the Department of Home Affairs.

The department has had to open cases of fraud against interpreters who presented fake permits and qualifications.

“Our compensation budget is under serious constraint so we had to come up with measures to cut down so the contracts have been terminated in Johannesburg and Kempton Park,” she said.  

The case will be heard on Wednesday.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  narcotics  |  crime

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