Over 260 court judgments outstanding for more than six months

It is the highest number of late judgments since GroundUp started reporting the issue

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Illustration: Lisa Nelson

  • 264 reserved judgments in South African courts have been outstanding for longer than six months.
  • The longest outstanding judgment dates back to December 2012.
  • The Johannesburg Labour Court had the most late judgments followed by the Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg high courts.

Some 264 judgments have been outstanding for at least six months in courts across the country – the highest number since GroundUp started reporting on late judgments in 2017.

This is according to the latest Reserved Judgment Report for the Chief Justice as of term 2 of this year, beginning 10 April or 1 May 2023 depending on the court. In total, 1,284 judgments were reserved.

The judicial norms and standards for both civil and criminal matters is that judgments should generally not be reserved without a fixed date for handing down. However, instead of delivering judgment immediately or soon after a hearing or trial finishes, the court may decide to reserve judgment without giving a date. The norms and standards state that when that happens every effort should be made to hand down judgments no later than three months after the last hearing.

GroundUp uses a more lenient six-month benchmark before regarding a reserved judgment as late. It appears the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) is also using the more lenient six-month benchmark.

The latest report shows that at the time of publication, the Johannesburg High Court had the highest number of reserved judgments with a total of 235. Of these, 19 have been outstanding for more than six months.

The Johannesburg Labour Court had the highest number of late judgments with a total of 42. The Pretoria High Court had the second-highest number of late judgments with 37 outstanding for more than six months. The Pietermaritzburg High Court had 26 late judgments while the Cape Town Labour Court followed closely behind with 23 late judgments.

Last Tuesday, we reported how the Constitutional Court was setting a poor example by failing to deliver judgments timeously. It has four judgments outstanding for more than six months. Its website currently lists 19 cases awaiting judgment, though this might not be accurate.

A previous report by the OCJ showed that at the end of December 2022, 181 judgments were outstanding for more than six months. The number of late judgments had increased by 83 by 10 April 2023.

The judgments which have been outstanding the longest date back to 12 December 2012 and 4 June 2013, both by Judge Anton van Zyl. Despite not handing down judgment in these matters, Judge van Zyl retired in August 2021. He has eight outstanding late judgments. Van Zyl has been reported to the Judicial Conduct Committee for these outstanding judgments.

Judge Cassim Sardiwalla of the Pretoria High Court, Acting Judge Sean Snyman of the Johannesburg Labour Court and Judge Robert Lagrange of the Cape Town Labour Court have 11 late judgments each – the highest according to the report. Lagrange is responsible for nearly half of the late judgments at the Cape Town Labour Court.

Acting Judge Nontuthuzelo Mabenge has eight late judgments at the Gqeberha Labour Court. The Thohoyandou High Court in Limpopo only has two late judgments, both from Judge Nare Frans Kgomo and both outstanding for over three years.

Meanwhile, the Gqeberha High Court, Polokwane High Court and Land Claims Court had no late judgments. Both the Competition Court of Appeal and Electoral Court had no reserved judgments.

But the late judgment recording system is an “honour” one; it depends on judges reporting their reserved judgments to their courts. So the figure of 264 is likely an underestimate.

TOPICS:  Court Late judgments

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

How is it possible judgments can be so late? And how is it possible the Justice Department allows - I use that word deliberately despite the so-called independence of the courts - it to persist?

Related, what many don't know is the failure of the Justice Department extends to the Cape Town Magistrate Inquest Court. The backlog of inquest cases is five years or more. The "unnatural death" inquest about a close relative who died in July 2017 has still not been heard. We doubt it ever shall. (The Master's Office is holding up winding up her estate, which we now suspect is connected to the outstanding inquest. But who knows, no one will tell us.)

Part of the problem is the dysfunctional NPA, which brings cases to court. Annual emails to them and the court clerk about the case's status are ignored. In the meantime, elsewhere the courts expeditiously attend to political and government cases. One law for the elite.

Together with the dysfunctional Master's offices, these above are yet more examples of a failing state.

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