Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights challenge the lack of independence of the Judicial Inspectorate

Sonke Lhr

On 13 December 2016, Sonke Gender Justice, represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), launched an application in the Western Cape High Court challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Correctional Services Act (‘CSA’).

Chapter Nine of the CSA establishes the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (‘the Inspectorate’). The legislation requires that the Inspectorate inspect prisons as well as investigate inmates’ complaints. Regrettably, the Inspectorate does not enjoy the institutional independence the Constitution requires: It receives its budget from the Department of Correctional Services – the body it is obliged to monitor – and is administratively and operationally linked to the Department of Correctional Services. This makes it very difficult for the Inspectorate to hold the Department accountable when it violates its obligations.

The Judicial Inspectorate must be given sufficient financial, institutional and operational independence so that it can fulfil its functions without fear or favour. Moreover, it should be able to monitor and inspect prisons, investigate cases of abuse as well as systemic issues such as corruption and overcrowding, and to refer such cases to the South African Police Service and National Prosecuting Authority when necessary.

What Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights are demanding

Effective prison oversight is vital in securing the accountability of the Department of Correctional Services (‘DCS’) and its officials. Sonke and LHR are thus seeking a declaration of constitutional invalidity, to be remedied by Parliament within a certain time period. Unless the legislation is rendered constitutionally compliant, thousands of inmates are left without effective recourse when their human rights are violated.

This litigation follows years of engagement with the Portfolio Committee for Justice and Correctional Services, which, unfortunately, did not yield any legislative reform.

Ariane Nevin, National Prisons Specialist for Sonke Gender Justice: “In our work, we hear many complaints from inmates who are denied access to their antiretrovirals, or who do not have access to fresh water. The role of a prison oversight body is to bring these cases to light and to make sure that the responsible parties are held accountable.”


Clare Ballard, Attorney (Head of LHR Penal Reform Programme), Lawyers for Human Rights, 074 626 5071,

Ariane Nevin, National Prisons Specialist, Sonke Gender Justice, 021 423 7088,

Afrikaans- and isiXhosa-speaking media contacts are also available on request.