Judgment delays increasing in SA courts

According to judicial norms and standards, as laid out by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in 2014, judges are required to make 'every effort' to 'hand down judgments no later than three months after the date of the last hearing'.
According to judicial norms and standards, as laid out by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in 2014, judges are required to make 'every effort' to 'hand down judgments no later than three months after the date of the last hearing'.
Image: Russell Roberts

More than 100 judgments have been outstanding for more than six months. This is up from 87 at the end of 2018.

GroundUp reports that the SA judiciary published a national report on reserved judgments across all SA courts, dated September 30. The report shows that at the beginning of the fourth term of 2019 there were 103 reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months and, overall, 683 reserved judgments outstanding.

A previous report by the judiciary showed that at the end of December 2018 there were 87 judgments reserved for longer than six months. This means the number of reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months has risen by 16 within the past year.

Judicial spokesperson Nathi Mncube said the list of reserved judgments was published at the end of each term, meaning the latest reserved judgment report was published about December 13.

The report stated: “Judicial officers have a choice to reserve judgments [with no date] where circumstances are such that the delivery of a judgment on a fixed date is not possible. The norms and standards state that the judicial officers should make every effort to hand down reserved judgments no later than three months after the date of the last hearing.”

The latest report also indicated that, at the time of publication, the Pretoria high court division had the most reserved judgments, 105, 31 of which had been outstanding for longer than six months. The Pretoria high court had eight judgments outstanding for longer than six months at the end of December 2018, meaning the number rose by 23 in about a year. The longest outstanding judgment dated back to August 6 2018.

The Durban high court had 16 judgments outstanding for longer than six months. The judgment which had been outstanding the longest dated back to January 20 2015.

Judge Nomsa Khumalo of the Pretoria high court had 13 reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months. Judge Nare Frans Kgomo from the Limpopo division in Thohoyandou had 12 reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months.

GroundUp reported in April 2019 that judges Anton van Zyl, Siraj Desai and Jacqueline Henriques had been reported to the Judicial Complaints Commission due to their high numbers of outstanding reserved judgments.

The Johannesburg labour court had the second highest number of outstanding reserved judgments at 96, but only 13 had been outstanding for longer than six months.

The information in this article is dependent on the accuracy of the report published on the Office of the Chief Justice’s website.

Muddle over Cape high court’s late judgments

There was a discrepancy between the list of late reserved judgments provided on the judiciary’s website and the list of late reserved judgments produced by the Western Cape High Court.

The most recent national report of reserved judgments, published on the judiciary website, showed that the Western Cape High Court had no reserved judgments outstanding for more than six months, while four reserved judgments had been outstanding for less than six months. The report also indicated that two judgments were delivered during the fourth term.

GroundUp received a document, dated December 5, that listed reserved judgments in the Western Cape High Court that had been outstanding for more than six months, which was inconsistent with the judiciary’s report. The list showed that on December 5 there were five reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months and 66 reserved judgments outstanding for less than six months.

The national list was dated September 30 (even though it was published on December 13). But even using this earlier date, there were, at that time, on the Western Cape list, still four reserved judgments outstanding for more than six months and 21 reserved judgments outstanding for less than six months.

GroundUp attempted to get comment from Judge President John Hlophe of the Western Cape division of the high court, but received no response.

The list of reserved judgments in some courts, including the Western Cape High Court, is dependent on judges reporting their outstanding judgments. It is an honour system. So the actual number of late judgments may be higher than reported.

One of the late reserved judgments had been outstanding since October 13 2017 and another since March 13 2018. In both cases the presiding (acting) judge was Keith Engers.

According to judicial norms and standards, as laid out by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in 2014, judges are required to make “every effort” to “hand down judgments no later than three months after the date of the last hearing”. However, the reserved judgment report on the Judiciary website states that: “At the meeting held on 28 September 2018, the heads of court resolved that the reserved judgments report containing a list of judgments outstanding for six months or longer will be published on the OCJ website”.

  • This article was first published by GroundUp.

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