Lawyers say the Master’s Office is causing months of delays for crucial legal administrative procedures that should take weeks, reports GroundUp

Problems include a patchy digitisation programme, a staff shortage, and a shambolic filing system.

Lawyers complain that the offices have become increasingly dysfunctional.

Katherine Gascoigne, a Johannesburg attorney who specialises in work with the Master’s Office nationwide, said: ‘It holds millions of rands which can’t go back into the economy because heirs can’t access their money. The knock-on effect is enormous.’ 

Gascoigne said her law firm has applied so often for a mandamus writ that it has almost become protocol.

The Master’s Office has been trying to speed up its systems through digitisation.

In March the Gauteng Master’s Offices took more than a decade of files offsite to scan them for easy access.

‘We were given a six-week period in which we’d have no access. Now, however, many months later, we still have no access,’ said Gascoigne.

Gascoigne said the Johannesburg Attorneys Association offered to help the Master’s Office clear its delays, but they were turned down.

She suspects it’s because Master’s Office staff earn overtime for clearing the backlog.

‘It’s getting so bad that (the Gauteng Attorneys Association) approached Judge President of Gauteng Dunstan Mlambo to create a specialised court for Master’s Office matters,’ she said.

A week ago, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola launched the new Deceased Estates Portal, which allows people to register deceased estates themselves.

‘I have my doubts about whether this is going to be a silver bullet. Staff still need to process and check each and every document,’ said a Cape Town attorney.

The new online system has been subject to three cyber attacks over the last three years.

Most recently, the Guardian’s Fund lost R18m to fraudulent transactions. During each attack, services are suspended for weeks, reports GroundUp.

The Information Regulator claims the 2021 hack would have been prevented if the Department of Justice had renewed its anti-virus software licences.

It fined the department R5m for violation of the Protection of Private Information Act.

Full GroundUp report