Some 264 judgments have been outstanding for at least six months in courts across the country – the highest number since GroundUp started reporting on late judgments in 2017.

This is according to the latest Reserved Judgment Report for the Chief Justice as of term two of this year, beginning 10 April or 1 May 2023 depending on the court.

In total, 1 284 judgments were reserved.

The judicial norms and standards for both civil and criminal matters is that judgments should generally not be reserved without a fixed date for handing down. However, instead of delivering judgment immediately or soon after a hearing or trial finishes, the court may decide to reserve judgment without giving a date.

The norms and standards state that when that happens, every effort should be made to hand down judgments no later than three months after the last hearing. 

GroundUp uses a more lenient six-month benchmark before regarding a reserved judgment as late. It appears the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) is also using the more lenient six-month benchmark.

The latest report shows that at the time of publication, the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) had the highest number of reserved judgments with a total of 235.

Of these, 19 have been outstanding for more than six months. The Johannesburg Labour Court had the highest number of late judgments with a total of 42. The Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) had the second-highest number of late judgments with 37 outstanding for more than six months.

The KZN High Court (Pietermaritzburg) had 26 late judgments while the Cape Town Labour Court followed closely behind with 23 late judgments.

GroundUp last week reported on how the Constitutional Court was setting a poor example by failing to deliver judgments timeously.

It has four judgments outstanding for more than six months. Its website currently lists 19 cases awaiting judgment, although this might not be accurate.

A previous report by the OCJ showed that at the end of December 2022, 181 judgments were outstanding for more than six months. The number of late judgments had increased by 83 by 10 April 2023.

The judgments which have been outstanding the longest date back to 12 December 2012 and 4 June 2013, both by Judge Anton van Zyl.  Despite not handing down judgment in these matters, Van Zyl retired in August 2021. He has eight outstanding late judgments. Van Zyl has been reported to the Judicial Conduct Committee for these outstanding judgments.

Judge Cassim Sardiwalla of the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria), Acting Judge Sean Snyman of the Johannesburg Labour Court and Judge Robert Lagrange of the Cape Town Labour Court have 11 late judgments each – the highest according to the report.

Lagrange is responsible for nearly half of the late judgments at the Cape Town Labour Court. Acting Judge Nontuthuzelo Mabenge has eight late judgments at the Gqeberha Labour Court. The Limpopo High Court (Thohoyandou) only has two late judgments, both from Judge Nare Frans Kgomo and both outstanding for over three years.

The late judgment recording system is an ‘honour’ one; it depends on judges reporting their reserved judgments to their courts. So the figure of 264 is likely an underestimate.

Full GroundUp report