Swift justice in World Cup courts could backfire – experts
DEDICATED World Cup courts have meted out swift justice in over 50 cases in the past two weeks – in some instances sentencing offenders to five years in jail for theft of a cellphone.
But criminal law experts say this type of sentencing is harsh, unsustainable beyond the World Cup event and will only contribute to the further overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
In just 20 minutes, first-time offender Themba Makhubu, 22, was found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail for stealing a cellphone from a tourist last week.
Using Makhubu’s case as an example, Barbara Holtmann, head of crime and violence prevention research at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said the sentence was out of proportion to the crime.
“We have 400 000 recorded cases of theft every year in the country – can you imagine what would happen if we were to hand them such heavy sentences?” she said. “ I don't see the benefit this kind of justice would have on the system.”
Wits School of Law Professor Stephen Tuson agrees.
He said Makhubu’s case was heard unusually quickly and while this was how the criminal justice system should work in South Africa, it was only possible because the special courts were not burdened with the high volumes of cases facing criminal courts every day.
Tuson’s sentiments rang true this week.
In stark contrast to Makhubu’s case, in another court at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, Bongani Ndlovu, Mthokozizi Phakathi and Ayanda Dlamini this week felt the real wheels of justice turn as yet another delay marred their three-month-old theft case. The three stole two bags containing jackets worth R10 000 from a vendor in March. They will be sentenced only next week.
Like Makhubu, they pleaded guilty to theft but the trio have been in and out of court more than seven times already.
Makhubu’s case was not the only one dealt with swiftly. His was one of some 118 cases that have been heard by the 56 dedicated World Cup courts to date. In those, 52 resulted in convic- tions, 53 in postponements, nine in withdrawals and four in acquittals. Most were heard in Gauteng. Holtmann said cases like Makhubu’s could create massive problems if they were seen as precedents because this would not be sustainable after the World Cup.
“There is no evidence in our history that handing down long sentences deters people from committing crime. I don't see any logic in this sentence,” she said.