End­ing the cri­sis in jus­tice a pri­or­ity

Firm po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship will be cru­cial to re­viv­ing trust in South Africa’s courts, writes Lizette Lan­caster

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

OUTH Africa’s sys­tem of crim­i­nal jus­tice is in a cri­sis. If its abil­ity to pre­vent, process and de­ter crime is any mea­sure of its ef­fec­tive­ness, then re­form­ing the sys­tem is now not only a ne­ces­sity but a national pri­or­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, the sys­tem is not eas­ily fixed; it is not char­ac­terised by a sin­gle prob­lem that can be re­solved speed­ily, but is char­ac­terised by block­ages, many of which cause delays in other parts of the crim­i­nal jus­tice pipe­line.”

For many, th­ese words from Dr Mark Shaw in an In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies pub­li­ca­tion ring as true to­day as they did in 1996 when first pub­lished.

Af­ter 20 years of democ­racy, it is fair to ask whether South Africans be­lieve that the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, and in par­tic­u­lar the courts, have be­come ac­ces­si­ble, ef­fec­tive, fair and im­par­tial. If the lat­est Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil (HSRC) find­ings are any­thing to go by, the more than R600 bil­lion in­vested in the sys­tem since 2001 has not re­sulted in con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ments when it comes to pub­lic per­cep­tion.

Us­ing the an­nual South African So­cial At­ti­tude Sur­veys, the HSRC has an­a­lysed trends in the level of trust that cit­i­zens placed in the courts over a 15-year pe­riod from 1998. In­ter­est­ingly, there were sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in the lev­els of trust in the courts be­tween 2000, when only 37 per­cent of South Africans said that they had trust in the courts, and 2004, when trust lev­els peaked at 58 per­cent.

How­ever, trust in the courts then de­te­ri­o­rated un­til 2007, when they hit a low of 49 per­cent, be­fore start­ing to in­crease again, reach­ing a high of 57 per­cent in 2009. While we can only spec­u­late on the rea­sons be­hind th­ese trends, the peaks ap­pear to co­in­cide with elec­tion years when the prom­ises of new gov­ern­ments cre­ated hopes of bet­ter ser­vices.

Nev­er­the­less, aware that the sys­tem was not func­tion­ing op­ti­mally and that pub­lic per­cep­tions were de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, the govern­ment un­der­took an in-depth re­view to iden­tify the key chal­lenges. This re­sulted in the Seven-Point Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan, which at the time was driven by an en­er­getic deputy min­is­ter of jus­tice and con­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ment, Johnny de Lange.

The plan pro­vided a clear and prac­ti­cal roadmap for the es­tab­lish­ment of a “sin­gle, in­te­grated, seam­less and mod­ern crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem”.

De Lange did a great job of ral­ly­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem de­part­ments be­hind the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan and en­sur­ing that the pub­lic be­came aware of the govern­ment’s in­ten­tions to fix the prob­lems.

This all changed abruptly with the in­tro­duc­tion of a new govern­ment af­ter the 2009 elec­tions. The govern­ment ceased to give the plan pub­lic­ity and the sys­tem ap­peared to be thrown into tur­moil as poor po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments were made to the se­nior ech­e­lons of the po­lice and the National Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA). Since then trust lev­els have de­clined so that last year, ex­actly half of cit­i­zens dis­played some level of trust in the courts.

Of course, on­go­ing and un­jus­ti­fied at­tacks on the courts by se­nior ANC and govern­ment of­fi­cials may also have weak­ened pub­lic con­fi­dence among cer­tain con­stituen­cies.

An in- depth anal­y­sis by the HSRC sug­gests dis­ad­van­taged and vul­ner­a­ble groups are less likely to per­ceive the jus­tice sys­tem as im­par­tial and fair and “there­fore, were found to be less trust­ing of the courts”.

About two in five re­spon­dents ( 44 per­cent) be­lieved the courts would be more likely to find per­sons guilty if they were black and 51 per­cent felt peo­ple were more likely to be found guilty if they were poor. Only a lit­tle more than one in three (38 per­cent) felt the rich and the poor would be treated equally be­fore the crim­i­nal courts.

Recog­nis­ing the chal­lenges fac­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, the National De­vel­op­ment Plan 2030 (NDP) has rec­om­mended that im­me­di­ate ac­tion be taken to con­tinue the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the seven-point plan in an ef­fort to im­prove pub­lic con­fi­dence in the courts.

The NDP also has urged that sev­eral pro­cesses be put in place be­fore the plan’s im­ple­men­ta­tion:

De­part­ments in the jus­tice, crime preven­tion and se­cu­rity clus­ter must im­me­di­ately align their strate­gic plans with the seven-point plan.

The pro­ject man­ager ap­pointed to the Of­fice for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sys­tem Re­form must co-or­di­nate the plan’s ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grammes to en­sure that the clus­ter de­part­ments im­ple­ment the seven-point plan in a syn­chro­nised man­ner.

Ded­i­cated bud­gets for each par­tic­i­pat­ing depart­ment must be es­tab­lished and out­comes re­ported on in re­la­tion to the plan.

Con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing by the clus­ter and reg­u­lar re­port­ing on the plan’s im­ple­men­ta­tion is needed.

In­ter­est­ingly, while it may not be re­ceiv­ing much pub­lic­ity, steps are be­ing taken by the clus­ter to im­ple­ment the NDP’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

The strate­gic plan of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional De­vel­op­ment for 2013 to 2018, re­leased in March, in­di­cates that progress has been made as fol­lows:

The re­gional court pro­to­col, the case fi­nal­i­sa­tion pro­to­col and the trial ef­fi­ciency court pro­to­col have been im­ple­mented through the clus­ter.

A clus­ter de­liv­ery agree­ment was signed in 2010 as part of the govern­ment’s pro­gramme of ac­tion.

This agree­ment in­cor­po­rates the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the seven-point plan and progress is said to have been made to en­sure greater co­or­di­na­tion among clus­ter part­ners.

Pro­cesses are un­der way to re­view the align­ment of the mag­is­te­rial dis­tricts with mu­nic­i­pal bound­aries, where this is de­sir­able and fea­si­ble, to en­hance ac­cess to jus­tice.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the sev­en­point plan is driven by the Of­fice for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form, based in the depart­ment.

A crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the plan is the es­tab­lish­ment of the elec­tronic case man­age­ment sys­tem to en­sure bet­ter man­age­ment of crime in­for­ma­tion across the var­i­ous crim­i­nal jus­tice de­part­ments.

This would al­low for block­ages or short­com­ings in the sys­tem to be more ef­fec­tively iden­ti­fied and fixed.

Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, it seems doubt­ful that the elec­tronic man­age­ment sys­tem is any­where near to be­ing ready.

This emerged in Par­lia­ment on April 20 when the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on po­lice lam­basted po­lice of­fi­cials when they said the sys­tem was still be­ing de­vel­oped – 11 years af­ter its im­ple­men­ta­tion was agreed on – and that it may take 10 more years to be fully op­er­a­tional.

In the mean­time, of­fi­cials in the jus­tice, crime preven­tion and se­cu­rity clus­ter drive the process as best they can.

How­ever, the delays ex­pe­ri­enced since the launch of the plan demon­strate that high-level po­lit­i­cal cham­pi­ons are re­quired to mon­i­tor and drive it.

Wor­ry­ingly, se­nior po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in the govern­ment ap­pear to be more con­cerned with re­view­ing the judg­ments of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court and Supreme Court of Ap­peal, which will not tell us how to im­prove the jus­tice sys­tem, and pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that may weaken the in­de­pen­dence of the le­gal fra­ter­nity.

Ide­ally, the min­is­ters in­volved in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem should be seen to be at the fore­front of driv­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the sev­en­point plan to im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of the sys­tem. Un­til then, we are un­likely to see demon­stra­ble im­prove­ments in the near fu­ture.

Lan­caster is the man­ager of the crime and jus­tice hub in the gov­er­nance, crime and jus­tice di­vi­sion of the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies in Pre­to­ria. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared on the ISS web­site at http://www. is­safrica.org/iss-to­day

SHORT-LIVED: A seven-point im­ple­men­ta­tion plan was driven by the en­er­getic then-deputy min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional De­vel­op­ment, Johnny de Lange.

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