You wait years for a trial date in Gauteng court

Henry

Lawyers in Gauteng wait as long as four years for a place on the court roll in the High Court for cases related to commercial law or a claim against the Road Accident Fund (POF). This is because there are apparently too few judges and courtrooms to hear cases.

Several Gauteng lawyers told RNews this week that they are currently waiting up to four years for a trial date in the Pretoria High Court.

The waiting list for a date in the High Court in Johannesburg does not look much better.

“Pretoria and Johannesburg are the two busiest courts in the country. The short and the long is that we need more judges and courts,” says Tiaan Joubert, chairman of the Gauteng Lawyers’ Association and vice-chairman of the Pretoria Lawyers’ Association.

A reliable source, a person who attended several meetings during which the problem was discussed with Dunstan Mlambo, the Gauteng justice president, confirms this.

“There are too few judges and too few resources. It also doesn’t help that you only have a judge. You also need a courtroom, a stenographer, a court clerk and a court order. These five things are needed to make a trial run smoothly and there simply aren’t enough of them.”

The source says that there has never been such a long wait for a trial date in South Africa in history. “And everyone points fingers.”

According to Joubert, Mlambo and deputy judge president Aubrey Phago Ledwaba are well aware of the problem and “are trying their best under the circumstances… But it is not their job to appoint more judges or build more courts.”

Legal experts therefore place the blame at the door of the Department of Justice, which is said to be unwilling to come up with a substantial solution.

RNews’s source believes the Pretoria High Court is particularly under pressure, as the Road Accident Fund’s head office is based in Pretoria. “Many lawyers prefer to file all summonses at the head office as it is more cost effective.

“It’s quite a struggle to get a doctor, for example, to Nelspruit to testify. All the experts are here in the city.

“All claims against the RAF must also be heard by judges these days, even if they are settled.

“That’s why it’s so bad what’s happening in Pretoria and to some extent in Johannesburg,” explains the source.

More problems than solutions

RNews’s source says that the problem has already been raised at many meetings.

Advocates have even indicated that they are willing to make their consultation rooms available so that the rooms can be converted into temporary courts and masses of cases can be heard more quickly. According to the source, a list of around 90 willing advocates has been drawn up.

“But for every solution they give us ten problems. They continue to stand firm against this bureaucratic way of doing things. They want a courthouse,” says the source, referring to officials from the Department of Justice.

It was also suggested at one stage that motions be heard online. However, lawyers were then told that motions are a good learning opportunity for junior advocates and therefore cannot be heard electronically.

“There is no sense of urgency,” says the source. “Because these officials hold comfortable government positions and it doesn’t matter to them if it takes four years to get a trial date.”

“In the meantime, there is a plaintiff with a brain injury or in diapers after a car accident and waiting for justice.”

Joubert says the Gauteng Bar Association intends to approach the Department of Justice directly. “We have exhausted all possible formal channels. An administrative issue has now turned into a political issue.”

He says the association is even prepared to take up the matter with the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice.

RNews approached the Department of Justice this week for comment. However, the department simply referred the inquiry to the office of the Chief Justice.