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Redressing spatial disparities for better access and redistribution of social services: Magisterial district courts

Publication Date: 
Monday, December 4, 2017

CSIR geospatial experts have helped government assess the location of magisterial district courts in an effort to ease the access to courts.

Infrastructure is a key part of improving service delivery. However, the spatial distribution of infrastructure must be based on where people live and where they can best access such services. To support this objective, the CSIR has undertaken geospatial accessibility analyses for a range of purposes.

Contact Person

Johan Maritz

jmaritz@csir.co.za

CSIR geospatial experts have helped government assess the location of magisterial district courts in an effort to ease the access to courts.

Infrastructure is a key part of improving service delivery. However, the spatial distribution of infrastructure must be based on where people live and where they can best access such services. To support this objective, the CSIR has undertaken geospatial accessibility analyses for a range of purposes.

In 2014, the CSIR partnered with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to rationalise the jurisdiction of courts with a view to establish a judicial system suited to the requirements of the constitution.

CSIR senior researcher Johan Maritz says underpinning this project was the need to redress the spatial imbalances in a bid to enhance current service delivery.

“Although the aim is to rationalise all magisterial districts in the country, the initial accessibility and related analysis focused on the Gauteng and North West provinces, with the remainder of the provinces following in phases,” says Maritz.

The research was expanded to other provinces and the CSIR researchers have now covered four additional provinces, namely Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and the Free State.

Maritz says it is not only the court locations that is important, but also the accessibility of the existing magisterial districts. These magisterial areas have remained largely unchanged after 1994, even though other administrative units have been created and a lot of settlement changes have occurred.

New administrative boundaries have been drawn post-1994 with the intention to provide equitable and efficient services and to create viable systems of government. To be fair and just, social facilities within these new local municipalities need to be well located so they are accessible to residents.

“Having old administrative units for courts along with courts in inaccessible locations is an injustice to the people. The areas where people settle and live do not remain constant, but change overtime – this process is called settlement dynamics,” says Maritz. 

“We must also remember that court districts are territorial areas over which a court has jurisdiction. Therefore, people cannot just go to any court; they must go the court serving their area.  Magisterial districts have not kept up with the realities of population settlement post 1994 and the resulting challenges of access.”

To improve spatial justice and adequately support the process of rationalisation of the magisterial districts, the CSIR has undertaken geospatial accessibility analyses, supplemented with several case-specific investigations. The outcome also has implications for other services as courts are also linked to services provided by other government departments such as the Departments of Home Affairs; Social Development; and Correctional Services.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is applying a phased approach, dealing with two provinces at a time. The analysis of boundary adjustments requires the use of several analytical procedures to produce the necessary basic statistics and visual results that can be used to inform decision-makers of the implications of boundary adjustments to the service areas, the population serviced and the capacity of courts. These measures all relate to physical access (distance). Using interaction analysis software, the implication of boundary adjustments on service areas and average network travel distances to courts was determined.

For instance, CSIR researchers looked at areas in North West close to the border between the North West and Gauteng provinces where the old magisterial district created a burden on residents needing to access courts. “People here live and reside in North West but are functionally linked to Gauteng. Yet to access a court they have to travel quite far to a court in North West,” says Maritz. “The project aimed to identify such areas and to inform the rationalisation process so provision can be made to better accommodate people.”

Maritz argues that although government at various levels has used such analysis, social facility provision remains a challenge in some areas.  

“Given the settlement changes that occur over time, analysis such as this one has to periodically be repeated to aid in the optimal location and rationalisation of facilities,” he says.

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