Government creates Covid-19 dispute mediation process to avoid costly court cases

Justice minister Ronald Lamola says retired judge is earmarked for the job

03 May 2020 - 12:51 By S'THEMBILE CELE
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Justice minister Ronald Lamola
Justice minister Ronald Lamola
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

In a move aimed at pre-empting a huge legal bill over the national lockdown, government has moved to amend national state of disaster regulations to create a dispute resolution process outside the court, with a retired judge earmarked for the task.

This is contained in the latest version of the national lockdown regulations that were published this week, which makes provision for mediation or arbitration should civil claims be filed against the state over lockdown.

Justice minister Ronald Lamola said in an interview that government was considering the appointment of a retired judge to adjudicate envisaged mediation cases.

He said the process would not only assist from a cost perspective, but also provide a platform for aggrieved but poor citizens who cannot afford the high cost of  mounting legal challenges against government.

“When you look at most of these issues, particularly with the processes, there are people who are aggrieved by some of the issues but do not have the money to go to court.

“So if they raise the dispute the state attorney can then be able to mediate between them and the various departments to say that there is a particular issue and we can resolve it,” Lamola said.

“But even for those who do have money who want to take us to court, we are creating a buffer whereby the disputes can be resolved by both parties and they agree that their dispute does not need to be settled through the court, then they can mediate through a judge who can give a ruling that both parties accept.”

The appointed retired judge would mediate on a no-fee basis, cutting out the cost of litigation for both parties.

While conceding that government was worried about the price of the legal bill at the end of the state of disaster, Lamola also revealed that a number of legal minds had been advising government on a pro bono basis behind the scenes.

“We are concerned about the legal bill but at the same time we have already saved a significant amount with help from attorneys and advocates who have assisted us on a pro bono basis or at a reduced basis. Particularly before we issued the regulations, there was a lot of legal work which needed to be done. Things such as getting opinions on whether the proposals met constitutional muster. As a result of the sheer volume of the work we needed extra hands from outside. Only in certain cases have we had to pay normal fees. We are grateful because we would not have had the capacity to deal with it on our own expediently.”

Several government departments, including health, have already been taken to court by labour unions oveovere provision of protective gear.

The tourism department has also been taken to court for insisting on BEE compliance by companies seeking relief funding.

The SANDF is also facing a lawsuit for the killing of Alexandra civilian Collins Khosa, while government has also been threatened with court action by the tobacco industry oveovere banning of cigarette sales.

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