Tardy courts: Nearly 100 judgments outstanding for more than six months

The Constitutional Court which should be setting an example had seven late judgments at the end of June

By Marecia Damons

1 October 2021

Image by Sfepa from Shutterstock (All rights reserved, not Creative Commons)

At the end of June, 97 court judgments across the country had been outstanding for at least six months. There were 879 reserved judgments.

This is according to the latest Reserved Judgment Report for the Chief Justice, published this week.

This 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 usually compelled to.

A judgment may be reserved when a hearing or trial finishes. Instead of delivering judgment immediately, 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 been reporting late judgments since 2017; we have used a more lenient six-month benchmark which appears to have also been adopted by the Chief Justice’s office.

A previous report shows that at the end of July 2020, there were 82 judgments reserved for longer than six months. This means that the number of reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months has risen by 15 within the last year.

The latest report shows that, at the time of publication, the Johannesburg Labour Court had the most reserved judgments with a total of 120; 26 of which have been outstanding for longer than six months, up from 13 in the previous report, when this court also had the most late judgments. Its longest outstanding judgment was reserved on 9 January 2019, nearly three years ago. This was by Acting Judge Machaka, who has three reserved judgments.

In April 2019, we reported that Judge Dephney Mahosi of the Johannesburg Labour Court was responsible for the highest number of late reserved judgments at the time. Based on the latest list, Mahosi still has the highest number, with 11 late judgments.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court has 13 judgments outstanding for longer than six months. The judgment which has been outstanding the longest dates back to 12 December 2012 by Judge Anton van Zyl.

We previously reported 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.

According to the latest list, Henriques has the second-highest number of late reserved judgments, with seven outstanding for longer than six months. Desai, who has retired, still has a judgment outstanding from November 2020.

The country’s apex court is not setting a good example. The Constitutional Court had seven judgments that had been reserved for longer than six months at the end of June.

The Supreme Court of Appeal on the other hand has only five reserved judgments, none of which are late. The Competition Appeal Court and the high courts in Gqberha and Bloemfontein also have no late judgments.

Judges are well remunerated. As we previously described, the lowest paid have packages worth over R1.8 million per year, excluding pension. A Judge President gets well over R2.1 million, and the Chief Justice nearly R3 million annually. They get a government car and generous vacation time. They also get a pension for life at their retirement salary, that increases with inflation, which as far as we can tell is a perk without peer in the public service.