Address by Deputy Minister Andries Nel, MP on the occasion of the 21st International Congress of the International Union of Judicial Officers (Sheriffs/Bailiffs):Cape Town: ICC
2 May 2012
Mr Leo Netten President of the Union Internationale des Huissiers de Justice (UIHJ)
The Honourable MJ Hlope, Judge President of the Western Cape High Court
Mme Charmaine Mabuza Chairperson of the South African Board for Sheriffs and other members of the Board present
Mr Anthony Makwetu Chairperson of SANAPS
Judicial Officers, Sheriffs, Bailiffs, Messengers of the Court and Law Academics
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Union Internationale des Huissiers de Justice (UIHJ) / International Union of Judicial Officers on this auspicious occasion, the 60th Anniversary of the UIHJ, established in Paris in 1952.
I bring with me the best wishes of Mr Jeff Radebe, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development as well as the Government of the Republic of South Africa. We are indeed pleased that the UIHJ has decided to have its 21st Congress- that takes place every 3 years- on the African Continent. (following Americas, Washington, in 2006 and Europe, Marseilles, in 2009).
The City of Cape Town is, of course, also known as the Cape of Storms, and I have been informed that many of our guests that have arrived earlier in the week have experienced the stormy weather part of Cape Town. Fortunately, Cape Town is also known as the Mother City.
I trust the she will be so kind to let the sunny weather in and let you enjoy and experience the breath- taking views from Table Mountain, the scenic vineyards, the picturesque botanic gardens, the distinctive fisherman and their boats, the delicious food boutiques and restaurants, and the many other sightseeing attractions that will leave you with fond memories of our beautiful country.
The President of the UIHJ has mentioned in his invitation to sheriffs/bailiffs/ messengers of the court that the International Congress is primarily a meeting place for the exchange of information and the brainstorming of ideas to shape the future of the judicial officer in the 21st century. Furthermore, it also presents the opportunity to introduce new innovative projects.
I am therefore encouraged to learn that the UIHJ has establishment a Scientific Council consisting of academics from around the world to, inter alia, develop a uniform code of enforcement and that it will also play a key role in information technology and communication.
It is clear from the agenda items for deliberation during the 21st Congress that harmonisation, a uniform approach to enforcement, and the latest developments in in the electronic or digital passage, will be at the core of your discussions.
Programme Director, as you meet over the next three days on the various agenda items, it is important that we do not lose sight of some of the core principles that should guide us in our deliberations. In this regard, I would like to refer to the principles identified by Lord Woolf in his interim report of June 1995, with a view to create a new landscape for access to justice. Lord Woolf identified a number of principles which the civil justice system should meet in order to ensure access to justice. The system should:
(a) be just in the results it delivers,
(b) be fair in the way it treats litigants,
(c) offer appropriate procedures at a reasonable cost,
(d) deal with cases with reasonable speed,
(e) be understandable to those who use it,
(f) be responsive to the needs of those who use it,
(g) provide as much certainty as the nature of particular cases allows, and
(h) be effective: adequately resourced and organised.
Lord Woolf emphasised that key to the above is enabling people to resolve their disputes in a more co- operative and less confrontation way than our traditional litigation. Tactical delays and the withholding of information benefit no- one and are not in the interests of justice.
The principles identified by Lord Woolf, are, in way or another, also applicable to the justice systems of each and every country. In the South African context, we are experiencing the same challenges as alluded to by Lord Woolf.
President Jacob Zuma, in addressing to the Second Judicial Conference for South African Judges on 6 July 2009, on the theme “Justice for all: Strengthening a Transforming Judiciary to Enhance Access to Justice” stated, and I quote.
“When we talk of judicial transformation and access to justice, we are talking about three things in particular. We want to ensure that even the poorest of the poor do enjoy access to justice. Secondly, that the justice is attained without undue delay. Central in the struggle for a just society has always been, and continues to be the human rights and the rule of law, which are fundamental pillars of a Constitutional democracy”.
The President continues: “Transformation to ensure improved access to justice must address issues of language, procedures and processes, as well as other issues that may alienate the poor from the justice system…. Some of the poverty- related factors which inhibit access to our courts or justice include the long distances that people have to travel in order to access the courts and related services. There are also the prohibited costs of attaining the service of a lawyer”
This, together with the fundamental values of Justice enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, has guided Cabinet to approve a comprehensive Review of the Civil Justice System in South Africa. The Review will be overseen by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development and the Chief Justice of South Africa, Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
The primary objective of the Civil Justice Reform Project (CJRP) is the alignment of the civil justice system with the constitutional values, and the simplification and harmonisation of laws and rules to make justice easily and equally accessible to all, in particular the vulnerable and poor members of society. The review will consider the different aspects of the civil justice system, including and not limited to the following:
(a) The effectiveness of the courts, their jurisdiction and capacity to deal with civil disputes,
(b) Affordability and cost effectiveness,
(c) Integration of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms (ADR) and a mandatory referral system.
(d) Simplification of court procedures and processes,
(e) Modernisation, the implementation of information technology initiatives for the civil justice system. Such initiatives to include the electronic filing of court documents, and electronic service of court processes (by fax, email, etc.)
(f) Effective case management,
(g) Harmonisation of rules,
(i) Case Management and Backlogs, and
(j) Legislative Reform to align the justice system with the Constitution.
Different Committees are in the process of being established to address the different themes of the Civil Justice Reform Project. The Sheriffs profession is an integral part of this Project. Their invaluable knowledge and expertise would be indispensable, in particular in the reform of the service and the execution of court processes.
The process of globalisation has brought about an inter-dependence and necessity to improve procedures for international legal cooperation, recognition and enforcement. Cooperation is central to ensuring that the international legal system works effectively. South Africa and its Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) partners have negotiated and agreed upon various legal instruments to foster greater cooperation, with a view to encourage investment, economic development and legal certainty.
Obtaining a judgment or court order will of course be of no value if it cannot be enforced in another country. Court orders range from multimillion dollar judgements to a court order that a parent in one country pay maintenance to his or her children that live in another country. It is therefore imperative that internationally agreed upon procedures be established to enforce or realise lawful court orders.
The development and adoption of multilateral treaties is therefore an essential vehicle to make this a reality. In this regard South Africa became a member state of the Hague Conference on Private International Law on 14 February 2004.
The Convention on Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (better known as the Apostille Convention), the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, and the Convention on Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters are just some of the important legal instruments that assist and impact on the role of the sheriff.
I have been informed that officials from the Hague Conference will meet in the next week or two with senior officials in the International Affairs Unit of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to discuss the possible ratification of some of the Conventions referred to above. The Minister and I will be keenly awaiting a report on the outcome of the discussions.
The work of the UIHJ in promoting the harmonisation of international treaties, have no doubt assisted in fostering in-depth discussions and on-going debates. The fact that the UIHJ already has members from 71 countries, of which 26 countries are from Africa, places you in a unique position to make a profound contribution.
I have been informed that the UIHJ is busy with a project closer to our borders involving our neighbouring states in a project named CADAT (Cape Town Dakar and Tunisia resolution) which aims to promote the establishment and harmonising of statutes regulating sheriffs as well as providing assistance in training projects in countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
This is encouraged and you are invited to make more information available to the South African Board for Sheriffs and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development with a view to establish how best we could be of assistance. I have noted from the various information brochures made available to Congress participants that the UIHJ will organise on 7 June 2012, in its 71 member countries, a day dedicated to the public with the theme “The Judicial Officer and the Citizen”.
The emphasise will be to successfully carry out enforcement missions while respecting the dignity of the litigants, balancing their rights and adhering to the ethics of the sheriffs profession. This initiative is to be commended and to be inculcated in the day to day duties of the sheriff and his/her deputies. The public should be treated with respect, dignity and humanity.
On the domestic front, Minister Radebe, MP, has introduced the Sheriff Amendment Bill, 2012, into Parliament. The objects of the Bill are to amend a number of sections of the Act, that have been identified as giving rise to challenges in the sheriffs’ profession. The Bill also strives to transform the sheriffs’ profession which, in turn, will enhance access to justice, with particular reference to the functioning of, and entry into, the sheriffs’ profession.
The Minister appointed a new South African Board for Sheriffs with effect from 1 March 2012 under the able leadership of Mrs Charmaine Mabuza as the Chairperson.
Regulations have been promulgated that provide, inter alia, for a uniform approach in the interviewing process for the appointment of sheriffs.
The Minister will soon consider the appointment of just over 230 sheriffs to vacant post that will significantly change the demographic landscape of the sheriff’s profession in terms of race and gender. Giving the large number of newly appointed sheriff, training will be at the forefront of our endeavours and we are looking forward to tap into the expertise, experience and assistance of the UIHJ
I have also noted with appreciation the recognition that the sheriff’s profession in South Africa has given to the ranks of its deputies. These functionaries play a pivotal role and are at the coalface of service delivery to the public. I am therefore pleased to see the number of deputy sheriffs attending this Conference.
The qualification and training levels of sheriffs should be improved to ensure effective performance. The South African Board of sheriffs has been actively involved in various training projects and this should be intensified. The qualification levels of South African Sheriffs should be improved to meet with international standards and this is an area that could be looked at in the drive to harmonise the profession.
The financial challenges of setting up of the infrastructure of a sheriff’s office has been identified as a hurdle within the South African context and should be addressed with strategic planning projects to find acceptable and lasting solutions. We will follow with interest international trends and practices in this regard.
In conclusion, I am encouraged by the large number of participants at the 21st Congress of Judicial Officers and I am looking to reading a copy of the publication “The Judicial Officer of the 21stcentury” once it has been finalised and published.
I wish you a very fruitful and successful congress that will culminate in a sound foundation for the judicial officer of the 21st century.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
2 May 2012
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