Swift jus­tice in World Cup courts could back­fire – ex­perts

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - THABISO THAKALI

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.

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