Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Doing justice

Enver Surty describes his new job as walking into the eye of the storm. Sello S Alcock caught up with the new justice minister in Cape Town.

What are the elements of the ‘storm’ you refer to?
I was on my way to Pretoria last Friday, having just been sworn in, and the next thing I hear is that prosecutors are on strike over disagreements with the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSDs). I acted swiftly by firstly recognising that there was indeed a problem. Then I analysed the key issues around the problem and determined what I needed to do. I gave a commitment to the prosecutors that all their issues would be addressed before the end of the day and I fulfilled that commitment. I did not leave my office until I had responded to all queries by the prosecutors.

I also explained to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) staff I am also the voice and defender of the NPA and the judicial arm of government in Cabinet and in Parliament. I explained that I am not going to interfere in any way, but will enhance the constitutional obligation of concurrent governance — especially in the area of policy making. In a bid to make prosecutors more professional, for example, I will not hesitate to call the national director of public prosecutions if I get a report about unprofessional conduct from prosecutors.

The other part of the eye of the storm, of course, relates to the anxiety created around judges and various high-profile court cases. About this I just want to state that the independence and integrity of the judiciary are central to my task as a minister. I would say to anyone seeking to attack the institution that they are eroding both the rule of law and our democracy.

You will be at the helm for just six months. What are your key priorities?
The first thing is the transformation of the judiciary on the basis of gender and race representivity. I am not talking about transformation for its own sake, but about the appointment of competent and professional individuals to the Bench.

Secondly, I want to ensure that there is improved access to justice for our people, especially those in rural areas. For example, using the small claims courts more effectively by letting them operate on Saturdays. As we speak there are 24 normal courts throughout the country in strategic areas, which will be rolling out a full spectrum of court services to all South Africans.

Coming from the education department, I support development programmes that will help prosecutors to become more professional.

I want prosecutors to become people’s prosecutors who dispense justice fearlessly and in an impartial manner. I also want them to realise their role as crime-fighters by making sure they have excellent capacity to do their jobs.

I want to campaign to get stakeholders and society to participate more in the administration of justice and crime fighting — for example to ensure that they attend trials as witnesses or report criminal activity to the police.

Lastly, I want to entrench the credibility and the independence of the judiciary.

You have promised that you won’t interfere with the NPA. Is this in response to Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgement, or are you implying that your predecessor was guilty of interference?
I am not at all suggesting that my predecessor interfered. I do not think my task is to reply to Judge Nicholson or to any other judge for that matter. But I must listen to what all judges have to say and respond appropriately to issues they raise in their judgements.

What happens to the Legal Practice Bill, which is meant to get rid of obvious racial divisions within the legal profession?
The Bill is not dead — and there is a compelling need to deal with the issues you raise — but it is unlikely to be passed in the few months I will be in office.

What about the equally controversial proposal to put the administration of all the courts under the control of the justice department?
I am currently in discussion with the chief justice on this issue. We are striving towards consensus on this and other matters related to the administration of the courts.

Is six months enough time to make a real difference?
It’s been a privilege and all I can say is that I will do the best that I can do during the time I serve.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

More top stories

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks

Taxi operators clash with cops over disputed Route B97 in...

Three suspects remain in custody following their arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault after eight taxis were impounded

SA teens, you’re next in the queue for a vaccine...

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to register to receive their Covid-19 jab from 20 October. This group will be given only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, for now

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies aged 84

The 84-year-old died as a result of complications from Covid-19
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×