Hundred of Millions of Tax Payers money has gone under ways as cost for paying SA’s incompetent state attorneys who are unable to win states’ legal cases.
The state attorney’s office litigates on behalf of government departments and state entities in matters regarding unnatural deaths in police custody or in cases where the government is sued for medical malpractice.
But report proved that about 70% of all government legal cases were lost over the past few years, costing the country hundred of millions of rand
Public Service Commission (PSC) investigation’s report into the efficiency of the office revealed that state attorney’s office has lost seven of every 10 cases it takes to court between 2012/13 financial year, giving considerable financial implications for the state.
Not only that, the Office of State Attorneys (OSA) also has a high rate of settlements which cost the state huge money
Though the PSC notes that settlement amounts are typically a lot lower than what is initially claimed, many of these settlements are taken in “cases deemed too difficult to defend.
The PSC pointed out however, that it is unable to provide the overall legal cost of cases, due to fact that most of the sampled departments did not reflect the rand value of the cases that were dealt with and cases cut across different financial years.
In 2014, Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann was quoted saying about state attorneys – “The present condition of this office causes significant unnecessary expenditure of public funds that are wasted by cost orders granted against organs of state because of the poor quality of professional service provided by these officers of the court.
The very essence of the rule of law is endangered if regular litigants fail to observe the most basic principles that protect the independence and quality of justice dispensed by our courts.
It is time that this malaise is addressed. The client’s fundamental right to legal representation was rendered nugatory if the attorney tasked with representing it is guilty of as grave a dereliction of duty as the state attorney is in this case.
Legal representation must mean effective legal representation if that right is to be observed and respected in practice.”
Areas Where Funds Were Wasted
The report listed the following known expenses on lost cases:
- The Department of Health indicated that it cost a total R20.5 million on cases settled over two financial years,
- The Department of International Relations and Cooperation paid R928,442 for briefs provided to counsel over three financial years.
- South African Police Service: Litigation and Administration spent R5.9 million for cases related to recovery of debt.
- A total amount of R323.8 million was spent by SAPS: Gauteng for cases that were decided against the department over the three financial years.
This means that each state attorney is overloaded with cases, so much so that if they were to dedicate an equal amount of time to work on every case, it would average at about three hours for each. To confirm this, report says “there are 300 attorneys in various offices of the State Attorney.
Meanwhile, statistical report states that the OSA needs 2,487 state attorneys to bring the ratio of files per attorney to an acceptable standard of between 100 and 150.”
Aside the shortage of staff, there is also a budget shortfall. The budget that was allocated to the OSA is R107 million, spread over a period of 3 financial years, starting from the 2015/16 financial year.
Speaking on this, Professor of public law at the University of Cape Town Hugh Corder said it is important that the office of the state attorney is properly resourced and functional if it is to comply with the state’s obligations to the rule of law”.
Corder suggested that departments were insisting on contesting cases that were not winnable.
Department of Justice spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said it was studying the report and would respond when the process was concluded.