RAF cases piling up in Pretoria high court fuels blame game
A mountainous backlog of Road Accident Fund (RAF) cases in the high court in Pretoria is fuelling a triangular blame game between attorneys, the fund and the office of deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba.
About 6,000 RAF case files clutter Ledwaba's office, some more than 10 years old, and lawyers representing claimants say costly medico-legal documents and other expert reports substantiating the claims may lapse, resulting in a duplication of costs that will cost the taxpayer millions.
"If the [deputy judge president] had any intention of resolving the backlog ... he would have granted all the matters in his office a certificate of readiness," said personal injury lawyer Gert Nel.
The court is advising that some cases may be heard only in October 2020.
A "practice directive" from Ledwaba's office aimed at clearing up the mess says that in order to obtain a trial-readiness certificate, applications need signed pre-trial minutes, expert reports and joint minutes from the resulting judicial certification meeting.
Failure to comply leaves the deputy judge president with the executive power to remove the matter from the court roll, as has happened with a vast number of RAF cases.
Legal representatives have said the process is inconsistent and "prejudices the clients who were a part of the older directives" as their cases no longer comply.
"In the past, and in terms of the court rules, a plaintiff could have simply applied for a trial date after pleadings have become closed, and a trial date would have been allocated," said Nel.
"This was cost-effective and it worked like a charm. Now, no trial dates are being issued.
"This new practice directive gives me no sense of urgency from [Ledwaba's office] to attend to the backlog, nor is it practical, and I promise you it will result in an even bigger problem than we are currently facing.
"He is trying to reinvent the wheel at the expense of road-crash victims."
Pieter de Bruyn of the Association for the Protection of Road Accident Victims said mechanisms could be implemented to resolve the court crisis, but a "common will" was needed between all parties.
"Firstly, Ledwaba should consider making his new rule applicable to all new cases and issue certificates of readiness to clear the backlog of claims.
"Secondly, the RAF should simply adhere to its legal mandate in the RAF Act and make reasonable offers to claimants in order to settle within 120 days."
RAF chief marketing officer Phumelela Dhlomo said the controversial Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill will provide the ultimate solution because it will replace litigation with a direct-claims process.
"The ultimate decision to litigate lies largely with attorneys, and the RAF has no control over this," he said.
With Ledwaba acting as a Constitutional Court justice, his office is being managed by judge Joseph Raulinga, who did not respond to Sunday Times queries.