Pretoria — Several interventions have been identified to transform the country's Criminal Justice System (CJS) into one where crimes are fully investigated, courts are efficient and prisons support the rehabilitation of offenders.
Addressing the media in Pretoria on Wednesday, Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development, Johnny de Lange said fundamental changes have been identified which have all been adopted by Cabinet and now requires implementation.
The changes, in the form of a seven-point plan, follows an in-depth investigation by the four core departments, namely the South African Police Services, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Department of Correctional Services and the National Prosecuting Authority.
The overall objectives of the review was to improve the legitimacy and public confidence in the CJS, remove weaknesses and blockages in the CJS through short, medium and long term interventions, sustain efficiency and effectiveness though improved co-ordination and management of the system as a whole and more community involvement.
The current system has been described as fragmented, dysfunctional and having a high level of unaccountability. However, changes hope to usher in a new, modernised, efficient and transformed CJS.
Currently, said Mr de Lange, there are shortcomings at investigation, court and the incarceration stages of the system.
Simply put, the areas which were identified as critical were crime reporting, crime investigation, arrest process, prosecution processes, adjudication, incarceration and community supervision.
According to statistics, there are not enough detectives, crime scene experts and forensic experts to investigate crimes leading to the low number of charges being referred to court and being finalised.
The new CJS will focus on improving capacity to detect criminals and gather credible evidence to ensure convictions in court.
This is further compounded by the many cases being withdrawn or stuck of the roll after being introduced in court. The number of finalised cases is low when measured against the number of cases enrolled.
There is a 35 percent backlog of cases on the roll longer than nine months in regional courts and there are 48 000 awaiting-trail detainees in detention facilities.
The total number of prisoners in custody, including awaiting-trail prisoners and sentenced prisoners is more than the capacity available and the correctional supervision options are limited due to staff shortages.
This has led to little opportunity for rehabilitation and unfavourable conditions for waiting trial detainees.
While the seven transformation principles will fundamentally address the performance and capacity of the departments within the system, a single vision and mission for the CJS is to be established to ensure there is a single, aligned message for all departments involved.
"We need to realign the operations of CJS departments and agencies to eliminate the present misaligned, and often conflicting and sometimes mutually destructive objective priorities and targets within these departments," Mr de Lange said.
One of the recommendations was the establishment of a new coordinating and management structure for the CJS at every level within the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster.
Although formal CJS structures existed nationally, the provincial and local structures were mostly established informally, he said.
"These structures were not always with all or the same role-players... and were not focused at all or enough on escalating problematic issues upward for decisions at a political or senior official level," the deputy minister said.
To rectify these pivotal weaknesses, Mr de Lange said, the following recommendations relating to new or realigned structures of the CJS needed to be considered namely; the establishment of a new co-ordinating management structure of CJS at every level, including national, provincial and local level, amongst others.
He said this was to compromise relevant stakeholders at each level, especially Department of Justice, including the judiciary and magistracy, South African Police Services, National Prosecuting Authority, and the Legal Aid Board.
"We have recommended that the President should appoint a person from the Executive (Minister or Deputy Minister) as head of CJS structure, with only co-ordinating and management function to head and act as a political champion.
"This person should be accountable to the JCPS Cabinet Committee," said Mr de Lange.
With regards to Drastic Transformation of Court Process in Criminal Matters, the deputy minister said the new process will ensure that courts are focused on trials, rather than administrative actions, like postponements were to be introduced.
Mr de Lange said there was a major programme of capacity building and professionalism needed for detective services of the SAPS.
He said there was a need to accelerate and focus on detective training while substantially increasing the number of detectives in the police.
"The present formula used to calculate the percentage of SAPS members which comprise the detective services is patently inadequate," Mr de Lange said.
With regards to organised fighting crime capacity, the deputy minister said although currently, there was no formal holistic approach to fighting this, there was an increase in various crimes linked to organised crime syndicates and required a dedicated focus by the CJS.
"Consolidating organised crime fighting agencies within the CJS while adopting and implementing proper organised crime fighting structures and strategies will help us in effectively dealing with law enforcement," he said.
With regard to white collar/commercial crime fighting capacity, Mr de Lange said although the unit has not achieved the kind of results expected, there was a great need to adopt and implement an appropriate white collar crime fighting strategy.