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The 6th of June 2013 marks World Sheriff’s Day, and the South African Board for Sheriffs (“SABFS”) will be seizing this opportunity to reflect on the role of Sheriffs within our democratic society, and on the steps that have been taken within the profession to ensure transformation.
In the pre-democratic era, Sheriffs were the minions of the apartheid state machinery. Within the apartheid civil justice system, Sheriffs were devoted to execute the draconian civil debt laws of the apartheid regime relentlessly, and in many instances, violently.
Today, the Sheriff is a vanguard of the rights of citizens and contributes fundamentally to social and political transformation in our country. Sheriffs and their Deputies operate at the coalface in the delivery of services within the civil justice system. They play an integral role in ensuring that the people of South Africa realise their fundamental Constitutional rights, and give meaning to the values of justice, equality and dignity. They further support the processes which are aimed at establishing an effective and accessible justice system that is hinged on fairness and compassion.
As Sheriffs, we bear the invidious task of having to enforce court orders, while simultaneously having to safeguard the rights, and be mindful of the plight of judgment debtors. In the fulfillment of this task, while balancing the need to be both compassionate and dispassionate, we maintain our commitment to “upholding the dignity of those we serve”. Indeed, this is our motto in our daily work.
The Sheriffs profession is governed by the Sheriffs Act (No.90 of 1986), which brings into being the SABFS. The SABFS is the regulatory authority over the Sheriffs profession in South Africa. In exercising its oversight role, the SABFS ensures that Sheriffs conduct themselves within the parameters of the rule of law.
As a part of its responsibility for the maintenance of high standards of rights-based, ethical conduct, the SABFS has institutionalised capacity building and training programmes for members of the profession. This ensures that Sheriffs are responsive to, and apprised of the constantly evolving legislative landscape, and gives Sheriffs the required support and training to meet their legislative mandates.
The SABFS is the driving force behind the transformation of the profession, and is especially committed to addressing the legacies of inequity and inequalities. As such, the SABFS has prioritised gender equality within the profession. The Sheriff’s profession is well on its way to transformation in a manner that embodies the Constitutional values of our democratic country. This transformation is being undertaken both in substance and in form. It is further undertaken both within the profession, as well as in its external dealings with the public.
The internal transformation of the profession is evidenced by, among other things, the inclusion into the profession of individuals who were previously disenfranchised and alienated from the system. Barriers to the profession which excluded individuals on the grounds of race, gender and disability have now been dismantled, making way for the promotion and encouragement of greater inclusivity. In the pursuit of the objectives of transformation, 124 new sheriffs were appointed in the 2012 financial year. Of these appointees, 64 were African, 44 white, 12 coloured and 7 Indian. Women represented 31,49% of the new appointees, and men represented 68,50%. This development is indicative of the movement within the Sheriff’s profession to work towards meeting the developmental needs of our country.
While this represents a comparatively marked improvement, there is still a long way to go. Nonetheless, the pace of change is accelerating, and in both its internal operations as well as in its external engagements with members of the public, the Sheriff’s profession has succeeded in making a decisive break with the past.
This renaissance of the Sheriff’s profession is being ushered in at the helm of its new Board. The SABFS plays an indispensible role in ensuring the transformation of the Sheriff’s profession. The SABFS also fulfills a dual complaints-resolution role in ensuring that the challenges and problems faced by members of the public, as well as members of the profession, are speedily addressed.
There are many elements to the SABFS’s role in bringing the Sheriff’s profession in alignment with constitutional imperatives. One of these is the SABFS’s responsibility for the review of the legislative landscape that governs and pertains to the profession. Further, where necessary, it lobbies for reform in the interests of protecting the integrity of the Sheriff’s profession, and other role-players in the civil justice system.
The SABF has the ultimate responsibility of setting benchmarks and performance standards for members of the Sheriff’s profession; for monitoring their implementation and ensuring compliance with these standards by all its members. The SABFS monitors the conduct of members of the Sheriff’s profession in its dealings with the public, and in so doing, it ensures that the esteem and integrity of the profession is upheld.
On another level, the Sheriff is one of the key role-payers in the Civil Justice Review Project (CJRP) of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJCD). The project seeks to align the civil justice system with the constitutional values of our country. One of the aims o f the project is to simplify laws and rules in the interests of better access to justice. The project focuses on, inter alia:
a) Enhancing the courts capacity so that it can more effectively deal with civil disputes;
b) Promoting affordability and cost-effectiveness of services within the civil justice system;
c) Promoting the usage of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms within the civil justice system;
d) Simplifying court procedures and processes;
e) Incorporating new technologies in the rendering of services; and
f) Aligning the justice system with the constitution.
Ultimately, the Civil Justice Review Project (CJRP) has the potential to revolutionise the way civil and administrative justice will be managed in South Africa. Being on the forefront of service delivery, Sheriffs have a fundamental role to play in the realisation of these objectives.
As we celebrate World Sheriffs Day in South Africa, we remain mindful of our duty to ensure the observance of the rights-based procedural safeguards within the civil justice system. As the SABFS, we remain steadfast and dedicated to upholding the rule of law and protecting the dignity of all people in South Africa. While the history of Sheriffs has been a blemished one, as the SABFS, we maintain a zero-tolerance attitude towards abusive and corrupt practices within the Sheriff’s profession. As such, we are firmly committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the integrity and esteem of our profession, and to uphold the Constitution of South Africa.
Ms Charmaine Mabuza
Chairperson South African Board for Sheriffs and Sheriff of Nelspruit High and Lower Courts
4 Church Square
Cnr Spin and Parliament Streets
Ph: 021 462 3209
Fax: 021 462 2099