Thousands of litigants are being prejudiced by the Cape High Courts backlog of civil cases, say lawyer who are concerned that their clients would have to wait several years to have their day in court. There are 3018 civil matters which have not yet been allocated trail dates – and the next available date is in 2012. Matters receive up until August last year have been allocated trail dates.
City attorneys have raised concern about the situation, saying it is highly prejudicial to litigants. The issue was raised at a meeting of the Cape Town Attorney Association (CTAA) High Court Portfolio earlier this year. But the provincial justice department said there was no crisis. Regional head Hishaam Mohammed said a R30 million budget had been approved for four additional courtrooms and additional judge’s chambers should be completed early next year.
Mohammed added that the number of matters placed on the daily roll had also increased. However, attorneys are concerned about the effects on their clients. CTAA secretary Robert Krautkramer said: “you know you are going to wait at least 18 months for a date.” In the interim, medical experts required to testify in these cases moved abroad or died and an alternative arrangement had to be made, he said.
Asked what contributed to the delays, Krautkramer said the new high court calendar had not yet been printed, which meant that staff could not allocate dates. He added that Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims took up a large part of the court roll after the fund had given a directive to its attorneys that claims were not to be settled out of court.
In addition, Krautkramer said, the court day was too short by about four hours, and that there were too few judges and courtrooms to hear cases. He also pointed that recesses took up a quarter of the year. Attorney Tzvi Brivik, who specializes in personal injury claims, reiterated Krautkramer’s sentiment about RAF claim. He said he had waited four years for a date for the trail of one of his clients. He had applied for a date in February 2006and the case will only go to court in February next year.
Brivik also said he had not yet received a trial date for a claim that one of his clients had lodged against the Road Accident Fund even though he had applied for a trial date in October 2007. In the third matter, in which Mlamu Arthur Siyatha is suing Health MEC Theuns Botha for R1.5 million in a damage claim, Brivik applied for a trial date in June last year. However, he had still not had a response. Siyatha had instituted the claim after his five month pregnant wife, Nomglobo Elvina Siyatha, died at the Micheal Mapongwana Clinic in Site B, Khayelitsha on January 30, 2005, after she had gone there for treatment because she had been experiencing abdominal pains.
Siyatha alleges in court papers that the staff did not offer his wife any assistance and left her in pain on a trolley at the hospital. The baby was stillborn and Nomglobo Siyatha died as a result of heavy bleeding. In responding papers, the MEC admitted that Mrs Siyatha had arrived at the clinic between 8.30am and 9am, but denied that she was five months pregnant or that she had experienced symptoms of placental abruptions. Brivik said: “Cape Town use to be one of the better divisions. We used to get a trial date within 12 months.”
However, Mohammed said Brivik should have received trial dates for his matter and asked whether the applications for dates were made in the correct administration office at the high court. Brivik said he had followed the correct procedures.
He said two staff members at the Cape High Court allocated these dates during the recesses and were able to cope with the situation. Responding to the attorneys concerns, Mohamed said the department had started a project in which conferences were held before a judge to facilitate settlement of old RAF matters or to aid the parties so that they were ready for trial. He added that recesses were regulated by rules beyond the departments control.