Innovation in the SA court system

I have written about the inefficiencies of the court system and have made the odd suggestion here and there about how the court system could be improved using readily available technologies. It turns out that the Department of Justice has been working at improving court processes through its Integrated Justice System. So what is the Integrated Justice System?

In recent years, departments within the JCPS Cluster have taken significant steps towards modernising and integrating the CJS. Following government’s approval of the NCPS in 1996, the IJS Board was formed in 1997 to integrate the activities of departments in the cluster in a co-ordinated manner.

The IJS, approved in 2002, aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire criminal justice process by increasing the probability of successful investigation, prosecution, punishment for priority crimes and ultimately rehabilitation of offenders.

A second version of the IJS was published in May 2003.

Issues that are receiving specific attention include overcrowding of prisons and awaiting-trial prisoner problems (currently dealt with by the Department of Correctional Services), as well as bail, sentencing and plea-bargaining (currently dealt with by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development).

Government at all levels wants to eliminate duplication of services and programmes. The need for strategic alignment of cluster activities was also raised at a series of other governmental meetings and fora.

Benefits of proper alignment include:

  • less duplication of services
  • effective use of scarce and limited resources and skills
  • joint strategic planning and programmatic approach instead of reacting to problems.

During the latter half of 2002, the IJS Board responded to the challenge and initiated a process to co-ordinate and align activities beyond the IJS. In response to this, a development committee was established in 2003 and mandated to align the
shared objectives of cluster departments.

The JCPS has structured itself to focus on two main areas of responsibility, namely operational and developmental issues relating to the justice system, and improved safety and security of citizens.

One of the manifestations of this project is the e-justice programme which was featured on the Sunday Times website a couple weeks ago. The programme was introduced in the Durban Magistrates Court earlier this year and has enjoyed tremendous success since then. The Department of Justice anticipates that every police station and court will be connected to this system by 2008.

The system essentially involves making dockets and other necessary information available online. It resolves the age old problem of dockets getting lost or walking out the court and makes the information more readily accessible to everyone on the system. In time South Africa will see a nationwide system which has photographs and fingerprints of the accused together with relevant information made available to every court and police station. I suspect this will also have an impact on the civil courts and hope to see electronic filings become a reality in the near future.

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