The cyber-attack on the Department of Justice’s IT systems on 5 September 2021 has caused an almost total break-down in services by the offices of the Master of the High Court.
On 27 September an online meeting was held, attended by the Chief Master, several of the Masters, representatives of the Dept of Justice IT officials, and representatives of SAICA, SARIPA, FISA, and attorneys associations. The IT officials reported on the process of restoring IT functionality on the basis of confidentiality of the information shared by them. Suffice it to say that there is no indication when the process will be complete. Several participants suggested interim manual solutions to the problems, which the Chief Master and management team considered and rejected in a communication on 29 September. This communication was not distributed to all bodies represented in the meeting, but only to SAICA, SARIPA and an attorney who is also a FISA member. FISA became aware of this and FISA CEO, Louis van Vuren, addressed a communication to the Chief Master to point out that the communication was not distributed to all participants in the meeting.
On 6 October an online meeting of more than 100 persons was held where the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development was present. Also present were the Johannesburg Attorneys Association, the Pretoria Attorneys Association, SAICA, SARIPA, several Masters and, once again, IT officials. The meeting was in response to representations to the Deputy Minister by various parties. Louis van Vuren attended the meeting and pointed out to the Deputy Minister that a blunt statement by the Chief Master that the fraud risk is too high to resort to manual appointments is simply no answer to the peremptory provisions of section 14 of the Administration of Estates Act, 66 of 1965, that the Master shall issue letters of executorship to any person nominated in a will registered with and accepted by the Master as a last valid will. The Master’s administrative problems can be no excuse to escape the duty placed on the Master. It was also reiterated that FISA represents more than 700 practitioners and should be invited to all meetings of this sort. An attorney in Gauteng informed the Deputy Minister that he has instructions in several cases to apply to the High Court for a mandamus to order the Master to make appointments.
The Deputy Minister asked the Masters to consider options and whether they will be able to defend applications for a mandamus order. He also asked industry to come up with workable suggestions. FISA will take part in this process. A follow-up meeting will be held next week.
The Department of Justice published media statement updates on its website on 7, 9, 17, and 21 September and on 4 October. Click here to read them.