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High court ‘creaking to a halt’, says judge

Prominent Judge Kathy Satchwell has warned that the South Gauteng High Court was slowly “creaking to a halt” due to bad management.

“No one with any experience of this high court can dispute that the entire system has been creaking to a halt over the last few years,” Satchwell says in a letter to Business Day published on Tuesday.

She added that justice spokesperson Tlali Tlali appeared to have “no real knowledge” of the state of affairs at the court.

Satchwell was responding to Tlali being quoted in the Sunday Independent newspaper on October 24, when he reportedly labelled criticism by Judge Neels Claassen as “glaringly false”.

This was after Claassen, who is the chairperson of the library committee, accused the government of “losing its moral high ground by projecting an attitude that the courts are the enemy”.

Claassen has complained more than once about the state of the court library.

‘Allegations against judge untrue’
Tlali, who was not immediately available when the South African Press Association tried to contact him on Tuesday, said in the October 24 report: “We simply cannot agree with the views expressed by the judge [Claassen] to you. We are baffled and find it not only unfortunate but glaringly false for anyone to make claims that the government is refusing to upgrade the South Gauteng High Court.”

In her letter, Satchwell said the allegations against Claassen were “neither accurate, true, nor well-founded”.

“I am qualified to comment,” writes Satchwell.

“First, I use that library to the extent that it remains possible. I can personally bear witness to much, if not all, of that to which Judge Claassen has brought our attention. He is correct — the library no longer functions to the professional standard expected in a high court.”

She went further, saying the air-conditioning at the court operated “erratically, if at all, with the result that there is insufficient oxygen in courtrooms requiring concentration and intellectual endeavour”, the elevators “frequently don’t work” and the “lavatories are often unfit for use”.

Dirt and missing files
Satchwell said the stairs were “begrimed with dirt” and claimed that no scrubbing brushes or cleansing liquid are provided to those employed to clean the court.

Furthermore, Satchwell said the registrar’s office on a daily basis advises users that court files containing pleadings are “missing”.

“It is thanks to a few dedicated persons, such as Judge Claassen, that the biggest and busiest high court in the country continues to creak at all,” she concludes. — Sapa

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