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

But even the late judgments report appears to be late

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A report by the judiciary released in December reflected more than 150 judgments were outstanding for more than six months. Image generated by Stable Diffusion (Public domain)

  • A report published by the South African judiciary on 31 December 2021 showed that there were then 156 reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months.
  • Overall there were 830 reserved judgments, the longest outstanding one dating back to 12 December 2012.
  • The Johannesburg Labour Court had the most reserved judgments followed by the Pietermaritzburg High Court and Cape Town Labour Court.
  • If a newer list has been published, we cannot find it and the Office of the Chief Justice has failed to respond to our questions.

At the end of December 2021, nationally there were 156 court judgments outstanding for at least six months, and 830 reserved judgments outstanding in total.

This was according to the last available Reserved Judgment Report for the Chief Justice. It is the most recent report available on the judiciary’s website.

The OCJ usually provided an update on reserved judgments. However, since former spokesperson Nathi Mncube resigned at the end of May, it has been unclear when a more up-to-date report will become available. (The Sunday Times has reported that Ncube himself is in hot water regarding a R225 million IT contract at the OCJ, though he denies wrongdoing.)

The late judgments report represents a best-case scenario because the system of reporting reserved judgments is an honour one: judges are expected to report their outstanding judgments, but they are not compelled to.

Instead of delivering judgment immediately or soon after a hearing or trial finishes, the court may decide to reserve judgment. The judicial norms and standards state that judgments should be handed down within three months of being reserved. GroundUp has used a more lenient six-month benchmark and has been reporting late judgments since 2017.

A previous report by the judiciary showed that at the end of June 2021, there were 97 judgments reserved for longer than six months. This means that the number of reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months had risen by 59 within six months (June to December 2021).

The judicial report also noted a “noticeable increase in the number of outstanding [reserved judgments]” at the Labour Courts from 53 at the end of term three to 64 at the end of term four.

The judge with the highest number of late reserved judgments in the country, according to the latest list, is Judge Kgomo of the Limpopo High Court. He is responsible for all 16 late judgments in that court; the longest one, outstanding since 25 August 2020 (though he may have delivered some of these in the past nine months).

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Appeal had 12 reserved judgments, none of which were late. The Competition Appeal Court and the high courts in Bhisho, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Polokwane and Middleburg also had no late judgments.

But together, the Johannesburg Labour Court, Pietermaritzburg High Court and Cape Town Labour Court accounted for more than half of the total number of late judgments.

The report shows that, at the time of publication, the Johannesburg Labour Court had the most reserved judgments with a total of 134. Of these, 38 were outstanding for longer than six months.

When GroundUp previously reported on outstanding reserved judgments in October last year, this court also had the highest number of late judgments with a total of 120. Of these, 26 had been outstanding for more than six months. Its longest outstanding judgment was reserved on 9 January 2019, more than three years ago by Acting Judge Machaka, which had still not been delivered in the 31 December 2021 report.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court had the second highest number of late judgments with 22 reserved judgments. The judgments which have been outstanding the longest date back to 12 December 2012 and 4 June 2013, both by Judge Anton Van Zӱl.

The Cape Town Labour Court follows very close behind with 21 late judgments.

Tomorrow we will be reporting about a particularly outrageous late judgment in the Gauteng High Court.

The Office of the Chief Justice, in response to the published article, said, “Performance indicators and targets relating to Judicial functions were delineated from the Office of the Chief Justice planning documents from 2017/2018 going forward.

“The Chief Justice presents the Judiciary Annual report at the Judiciary Day, the report is available on the Judiciary website. The report on the Reserved Judgments will be made available on the Judiciary website, upon approval by the Chief Justice.”

The OCJ said that management of the judicial functions of each court is the responsibility of the Head of that Court as contemplated by the Superior Courts Act. “The Judge President of a Division is also responsible for the co-ordination of the judicial functions of all Magistrates’ Courts falling within the jurisdiction of that Division. The Heads of the various Courts will manage the judicial functions and ensure that all Judicial Officers perform their judicial functions efficiently. This includes the delivery of judgments by judicial officers and monitoring of reserved judgments in accordance with the Judicial norms and standards issued by the Chief Justice.”

Update on 2022-09-20 16:00

This article was updated at 4pm on Tuesday to include the response by the Office of the Chief Justice.

TOPICS:  Late judgments

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