Muddle over Cape High Court’s late judgments
Judge President Hlophe fails to explain why numbers don’t match
There is a discrepancy between the list of late reserved judgments provided on the judiciary’s website and the list of late reserved judgments produced by the Western Cape High Court.
The most recent national report of reserved judgments, which is published on the judiciary website, shows that the Western Cape High Court has no reserved judgments outstanding for more than six months, while four reserved judgments have been outstanding for less than six months. The report also indicates that two judgments were delivered during the fourth term. According to Nathi Mncube, judicial spokesperson, the latest report was published after the end of the fourth term, which ended on 13 December 2019.
GroundUp received a document, dated 5 December, that lists reserved judgments in the Western Cape High Court that have been outstanding for more than six months, which is inconsistent with the judicary’s report. The list shows that on 5 December there were five reserved judgments outstanding for longer than six months, and 66 reserved judgments outstanding for less than six months.
The national list is dated 30 September (even though it was published on 13 December). But even using this earlier date, there were at that time, on the Western Cape list, still four reserved judgments outstanding for more than six months and 21 reserved judgments outstanding for less than six months.
However you analyse it there is a glaring mismatch between the national judiciary’s list of outstanding reserved judgments and the Western Cape High Court’s list. GroundUp attempted to get comment from Judge President John Hlophe of the Western Cape Division of the High Court but received no response.
Mncube said that a reserved judgment report has been published on the government judiciary website at the end of each term since February 2019.
GroundUp has previously written about the problem of late reserved judgments. In February 2019, 13 Western Cape High Court reserved judgments were outstanding for longer than six months. In August 2019, GroundUp reported that the number of reserved judgments had decreased to four.
The list of reserved judgments in some courts, including the Western Cape High Court, is dependent on judges reporting their outstanding judgments; it is an honour system. So the actual number of late judgments may be higher than reported.
One of the late reserved judgments has been outstanding since 13 October 2017, and another since 13 March 2018. In both cases the presiding (acting) judge is Keith Engers.
According to judicial norms and standards, as laid out by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in 2014, judges are required to make “every effort” in order to “hand down judgments no later than three months after the date of the last hearing”. However, the reserved judgment report on the Judiciary website states that, “At the meeting held on 28 September 2018, the Heads of Court resolved that the reserved judgments report containing a list of judgments outstanding for six months or longer will be published on the OCJ website”.
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