Cabinet has approved a raft of justice bills at its latest meeting in Pretoria.
The Constitution Amendment Bill and the Superior Courts Bill have been approved for tabling in Parliament.
According to a summary of the bills released by government communications, the Constitution Amendment Bill seeks to put a constitutional basis in place for the further transformation of the judicial system.
It also aims to harmonise the various areas of jurisdiction of the superior courts so that the constitutional court is confirmed as the apex court in South Africa.
The bill will regulate the composition and functions of the judicial services commission.
The Superior Courts Bill seeks to “rationalise, consolidate and amend the laws relating to the superior courts with a view to enhance access to justice”.
It will also put a legislative framework in place to guide institutional reforms so as to improve the organisational and administrative capacity of the judiciary.
Enhanced capacity is important in the quest to safeguard judicial independence and accountability.
The proposed legislation will also incorporate the various high courts into a single “high court of South Africa”.
Some provisions focus on administrative and budgetary matters relating to the superior courts.
The terms of office and conditions of service of labour court judges will be aligned with those of high court judges.
The chief justice will also become head of the entire judiciary.
The Legal Practice Bill has also been approved for tabling in Parliament.
According to the statement, cabinet noted certain changes that had been introduced into the bill.
The proposed legislation aims to put a framework in place that facilitates the “fundamental transformation and restructuring of the legal profession to broaden access to justice”.
The bill will also:
• Make the legal profession representative of the South African population
• Ensure that constitutional values are reflected in the profession
• Promote the rule of law
• Set up a transitional structure to oversee transformation of the legal sector
• Increase access to justice
• Cap fees that lawyers and advocates can charge
• Instruct lawyers to undertake compulsory community service for free
• Establish the South African legal practice council
The envisaged transitional structure will “create a platform for the legal profession and relevant structures in the legal sector to contribute meaningfully in the transformation of the sector”.
The State Liability Amendment Bill has also been approved for tabling.
It intends creating measures to ensure that final court orders against the state for payment are honoured within reasonable time.
The Muslim Marriages Bill has been approved for public comment.
The bill is necessary due to the non-recognition of Muslim marriages in law.
Many people are unable to approach the courts for relief in the event of a marital dispute or breakdown due to cost constraints.
The proposed legislation will aim to provide additional relief.