A senior Judge at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, send a WhatsApp to her colleagues discussing the serious collapse of infrastructure at one of the country’s most important courts. The Pretoria High Court – and apparently most other courts in South Africa – have not had email access since 21 September after a massive system failure. Internet access has been essential to courts during the Covid-19 pandemic where many cases and application were heard and dealt with online. “Just sharing frustrations at court despite proactive attempts at many meetings to ensure that this week we will function, even without emails,” the frustrated judge said in her message. Some judges have been forced to use their personal email accounts.
The private contractors engaged to manage the technology left after being informed that “their contract will not be renewed.” These contractors managed case lines – the court’s online document management system – and enabled virtual meetings. Case Line Clerks, who also helped with invitations to attend virtual hearings, had also not had heir contracts renewed.
Apart from the technical difficulties hampering the work of the court, there are too few judges to handle all the cases, with 129 cases not placed on the roll on Monday as a result. By Wednesday, Monday’s roll was still not finalised and cases were not being allocated to judges. “The attorneys are complaining… They are having to pay fees to counsel even though matters are not being allocated. One attorney suggested sending each (available) judge 30 matters. But even if I do that, which I won’t, we will get through only Monday and half of Tuesday’s roll of a whole week.” The judge said in the first three days (of this court session) there had been seven requests for urgent applications which had merit. “We have no dates or judges available to hear them but I am trying to accommodate them.” She continued: “I approached seven judges yesterday for a two-week special trial, set down on the roster, to be heard in court for good reasons, and all seven refused point blank.”
A backlog with petitions was another problem the court has been unable to deal with. “I share this so that there is some understanding of the frustration at court. This office is inundated with personal and email inquiries caused by the collapse of our infrastructure.” An Advocate who frequently appears in the Pretoria High Court said that the problems were not due to mismanagement of the court, but rather the inefficiencies in the office of the chief justice.”