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Govt eyes improved criminal justice system

The flaws in South Africa’s criminal justice system need to be fixed ”yesterday”, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Johnny de Lange said on Wednesday.

”We need to do this in the shortest possible time. In fact, yesterday,” he told reporters in Pretoria.

De Lange said such a review will reward the country with swift, equitable and fair justice in criminal matters.

A key shortcoming at the moment is that the system is being managed by different departments what have no authority over each other.

”Police, driven by targets, send dockets to court; prosecutors, also driven by targets, bargain with the perpetrators when they see that the case will take them longer,” he said. This is counter-productive and no one, including opposition parties, has picked it up.

In the reviewed system a top detective and a prosecutor will work together to screen dockets to ensure that only trial-ready dockets are put on court rolls.

In November last year, Cabinet approved a target of seven fundamental changes aimed at achieving a dynamic and coordinated criminal justice system.

The seven-point plan envisages a criminal justice system with a single set of objectives, priorities and performance measurement targets.

He said the new process will ensure that courts are focused on trials, rather than administrative functions.

”The outcome of these changes will be a reduction of case cycle and the number of hearings per case,” he said.

A major change will be that witnesses will only be subpoenaed to appear in court once a trial has started. In the current system they have to be in court even though the case is not ready for trial.

He said a number of initiatives have been identified and some of these are being tested in pilot sites or are awaiting infrastructure before they can be fully implemented.

”The outcome of these will be seen over a period of time,” he said.

De Lange pointed out that the review of the criminal justice system started before the discussion on the future of the Scorpions.

”The Scorpion issue is a parliamentary matter, which I can not comment on,” he said. — Sapa

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