Parliament, Cape Town, Wednesday, 28 May 2020 – A delegation of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs (DHA) has recommended to the Department of Home Affairs to work with the Department of Justice and Correctional Services to streamline the legal function and avoid inefficiencies that lead to cost orders against the department. The delegation visited the department today following a court order by the Western Cape High Court compelling the committee to visit and assess the functionality of the legal services unit of the department.
Furthermore, the delegation has also called for an investigation of the plausibility of modernising the traditional approach of litigation in the public service where the State Attorney is charged with the responsibility of representing state departments in courts of law through the briefing of Counsel. The evolution of this approach might be necessary, especially within the modern legal system.
The delegation appreciated the intention by the department to introduce a multi-disciplinary approach in coordinating and accessing data, especially in high-risk areas such as audit, risk management, legal expert reporting, and litigation. Furthermore, the intention to launch a common technology platform and case management system will ensure that the department is on top of litigation against the department and can respond accordingly.
The delegation is concerned about allegations of collusion between officials of the DHA, State Attorneys and private attorneys in settling some of the matters to the prejudice of the DHA. The committee welcomes the assurance that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is already investigating those allegations and has extended its investigations to other government departments.
The Chairperson of the committee, Adv Bongani Bongo, has urged the department to push through with the decision to approach the courts in an effort to deal with cases that remain in the DHA’s contingency liability report for a long time because plaintiffs fail to prosecute the claims. Adv Bongo emphasised that it was unfortunate and undesirable that the department has contingent liabilities of more than R2 billion.
“We also would like to urge the department to utilise Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms to resolve some of the legal matters as this will reduce the amount of money the department spends on litigation,” said Adv Bongo.
Lastly, the delegation welcomed the intention to fill 13 more positions within the legal services unit to ensure that the section is adequately capacitated to deal with the more than 4 000 litigation cases the department is facing.
The committee appreciates the foresight by the Western Cape High Court in urging the committee to engage the department and address shortcomings in the legal unit of the DHA. The committee will continue to closely monitor the effectiveness of the section to mitigate against possible high litigation costs.