An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
I am a judge of the high court of SA based at the Johannesburg court (South Gauteng Division). I have read (Sunday Independent, October 24) the comments by Tlali Tlali, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, to the effect that the facts presented, and the opinions expressed, by Judge Neels Claassen of this division, concerning the state of the library at the Johannesburg High Court, are neither accurate, true nor well founded. It is suggested that Judge Claassen made comments which are not only “false” but “glaringly false”.
I am qualified to comment. 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, let alone in a private law firm or group of advocates’ chambers.
Second , I know the hard work and enthusiasm which Judge Claassen has brought, over many years, to maintenance of the library, which exists for the benefit of judges, practitioners and the public. Neither his personal knowledge nor his integrity can, in any way, be doubted.
Since it appears that Mr Tlali has no real knowledge of the state of affairs at the Johannesburg High Court, I would invite him to view the following: air-conditioning in courts operates erratically, if at all, with the result that there is insufficient oxygen in courtrooms requiring concentration and intellectual endeavour; elevators which frequently don’t work, requiring the public and practitioners to climb flights of stairs; lavatories which are often unfit for use; a telephone system without voice-mail and where telephones cannot communicate to adjacent offices; electronic security which has not operated for years and security which is either non- existent or inadequate; stairs begrimed with dirt and “cleaners” who are not provided with scrubbing brushes or cleansing liquids; archives where records lie in no particular order on shelves and sometimes on the floor; a registrar’s office where we are daily advised that court files containing pleadings are “missing”; inadequate and outdated computer technology; sometimes shortages of stationery; some judges working for lengthy periods without computers. The list is endless.
Litigating members of the advocates and attorneys profession, the litigating public and members of the judiciary can attest to these inadequacies.
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. 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.
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