Laws need to be amended to take the courts online, says Lamola

While SA's courts deal with massive backlogs in cases, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said laws need to be amended before it can go fully online.

FILE: Justice Minister Ronald Lamola at an inter-ministerial briefing on the coronavirus in Pretoria on 13 March 2020. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola told Eyewitness News recent announcements about transferring some judicial services into the digital format, such as applications for trusts, were all to lessen the burden on the country’s courts.

Last year, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng decried South Africa’s antiquated courts, calling for more funding to be channeled towards taking judicial services online.

The department told Parliament recently that its records showed case backlogs stood at 53% in regional courts and 48% in district courts in March last year. Lamola said the backlogs were exacerbated by delays due to COVID-19.

“It is a huge backlog countrywide and the collaboration between ourselves, the judiciary, the prosecutors, Legal Aid South Africa… there is some progress. That burden is gradually being eased but you will always find challenges,” he said in a wide-ranging interview last week.

Lamola said there needed to be legislative amendments to ensure that a full trial could run online.

“There is already ground that has been covered, the issue is to take it across the country. Even the video conferencing between the Correctional Services and the courts – there is ground that this is where this is working. But we now need to amend the laws so that you can even run a full trial online and that work is already in progress.”

Among some of the measures being explored to deal with the backlogs was the purchase of 1,500 new laptops and other equipment for magistrates to use.

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