In 2005, the then Southern African Judges Commission (now the Southern African Chief Justices Forum (SACJF), already identified that judicial training institutions in the region fell short of their mandate to equip judges to fulfill their role. Some of the challenges in establishing national judicial training institutes included:
- A lack of funding and general support by key governmental role players;
- The irregular intervals at which appointments are made and the small number of new appointments would mean that a judicial training institute would remain idle for long periods;
- Tension between the executive and the judiciary and interference by the executive has an impact on the smooth execution of judicial training programmes. Concerns were raised about the independence of judicial training institutions in general; and
- There was recognition that there is a serious shortage of skilled facilitators and lecturers to carry out training programmes.
The SACJF further proposed that regional cooperation would ensure the best use of limited resources through sharing of curriculum and training events and would promote the independence of judicial training.
At its AGM in August 2015, the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SACJF) emphasised the need “…to work toward the establishment of a regional judicial training institution/programmes to create opportunities for the systematic, standardised and sustainable provision of continuing legal education for judicial officers ”. The Conference further identified the need to “progressively move away from ad hoc and unstructured training” and to look at training of judges beyond internal training “… to include making budgetary provisions for such capacity development initiatives including…brief learning periods with appropriate academic and specialised judicial training entities in the region.” The SACJF through its Secretariat expressed a desire to partner with the DGRU and ICJ-Africa to take concrete steps to achieve this goal. Subsequent informal discussions with judges in the region indicate an overwhelming support for the need of such training.
In December 2015 a group of eminent jurists and human rights practitioners from Africa met to discuss the viability and need of a regional training facility for judges and it was agreed that the Judicial Institute for Africa ( JIFA) should be established as a project of the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, offering university-certified courses for judges in the Law Faculty at University of Cape Town.