A practice directive to regulate case management and the enrollment of trials at the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria and Johannesburg) has lawyers up in arms, claiming that rather than alleviating congested court rolls it will have a devastating effect on those who wish to bring their cases before the courts.

A report in The Mercury says Judge President Dunstan Mlambo issued a lengthy document on how cases will be managed from 1 July, outlining step-by-step directives of what must be done before a civil trial can start.

Attorneys who unreasonably frustrate the objectives of the judicial case management process can face a punitive costs order against them. They may even be prevented from charging clients a fee.

Mlambo said in the directive the objective of these measures was the interests of justice, and to alleviate congested trial rolls and address problems which caused delays in the finalisation of cases.

It was reported last month that there was a backlog of about 6 000 Road Accident Fund (RAF) case files in the office of Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba – some more than 10 years old.

The legal fraternity believes the new directives will make matters worse.

They are especially unhappy with the directive that all trial matters, which prior to 1 July had been allocated trial dates falling after 31 March 2020, shall forfeit those trial dates. These cases will be subjected to a lengthy new process, set down in the directive.

The directives were out of touch with the realities of the day-to-day litigation strain faced by the RAF, Prasa and the MEC for Health, according to Advocate Thilivhali Mulauzi, of the EFF. The report in The Mercury says he made it clear in a letter to Mlambo that the directive would have the ‘complete opposite’ effect from alleviating the congested rolls.

He said the fact that some cases would have to get new trial dates was ‘alarming’.

A workshop will be held on Friday to discuss the issues. RAF specialist attorney Gert Nel expressed his hope the matter would be resolved soon as the current state of affairs rendered no legal certainty.

‘It makes it impossible to advise a client.’

However, he raised concerns that only certain stakeholders had been invited to the workshop and that not all stakeholders had been consulted.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)