New courts to fast-track Covid-19 corruption cases, Scopa hears

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola can be seen at GCIS during a press briefing , 16 December 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

The new courts are necessary to help clear the backlog in the country’s specialised commercial crimes courts, and to ensure that Covid-19 graft cases are heard urgently.

The ministerial committee appointed to assist with investigations into the alleged looting of Covid-19 funds, has announced the establishment of additional specialised commercial crimes courts in a bid to clear massive backlogs and fast-track these cases.

Three of the five ministers on the committee – including Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, Police Minister Bheki Cele as well as Public Service and Administration Senzo Mchunu – came before parliament on Friday to brief the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on their work.

During the presentation, the Justice Department’s acting director-general, Kalayvani Pillay, said that there was a 74.5% backlog in the country’s specialised commercial crimes courts.

“These courts must be capacitated to perform their roles as dedicated courts dealing with serious commercial crime and corruption,” Pillay said.

She said a steering committee was being constituted to fast-track the establishment of seven new courts in North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape.

This would bring the total number of specialised commercial crimes courts in the country to 19.

Probed further by Scopa members, Pillay explained this did not entail new infrastructure being built. Rather, she said, existing infrastructure would be repurposed.

But additional skills would be required, she said, in the form of additional prosecutors, for example.

Lamola was in agreement with Scopa committee members that Covid-19 matters had to be treated “very urgently”.

But, he explained, in order to do this it was crucial to clear the backlog.

“We need to help these institutions,” he said.

He said there was no budget at this stage and that a task team would be “looking into all the courts”.

“The National Prosecuting Authority has also been appointing special prosecutors for the specialised commercial crimes court which will also come in handy,” he said.

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