/ 16 June 2010

Speedy justice in World Cup courts

Speedy Justice In World Cup Courts

Doping is banned at the Soccer World Cup but the South African justice system acts as if it’s on steroids.

Faced with a barrage of questioning over security in the run-up to the tournament as persistent as the drone of vuvuzelas, the host nation has pulled out all the stops to shake its image of a criminal haven.

Apart from deploying 41 000 police around stadiums, fan parks, hotels and tourist sites, and stocking up on helicopters, water cannons and other equipment the government has also set up 56 dedicated World Cup courts across the country.

Tough on crime
Staffed by dedicated prosecutors working with dedicated teams of detectives, magistrates and 93 interpreters, these district and regional courts have been sitting late into the night to try cases linked to the tournament — with impressive results.

Justice in South Africa has never been this quick: Two armed men rob three foreign journalists at gunpoint on a Wednesday, police arrest them on the Thursday and by Friday night they’ve been tried, convicted and begun serving 15-year sentences.

The robbery at a hotel in Magaliesburg, west of Johannesburg, was one of the most serious crimes so far involving foreign fans or media, many of whom have marvelled at how safe they feel at Africa’s first World Cup.

“Despite the negative image of South Africa I’ve had no sense of insecurity,” said Musa Mhlanga, a United States scientist of South African origin, who had attended three games in five days.

Speedy convictions
Contributing to that sense of security is the uncommon zeal with which crimes involving fans are being investigated and prosecuted.

In Cape Town, a woman who snatched the bag of a Japanese tourist was arrested, tried and convicted a day later.

On Tuesday, police arrested three men within a few hours of four Chinese journalists being robbed at their lodge in the north-eastern host city of Nelspruit.

Within four days kick-off, 20 cases had been brought before the special courts for offences, including robbery, theft and fraud, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Tlali Tlali told the German Press agency dpa on Tuesday.

A small number of foreign visitors have also been nabbed, including a Frenchman working for a broadcasting services company, who was arrested for drunken driving.

Of the 20 cases, at least four have been completed, earning the police and courts praise in a country where some of the world’s highest rates of crime go hand in glove with some of the lowest conviction rates.

“There is no bigger deterrent [to crime] than a successful prosecutorial system,” according to Johan Berger, senior researcher on crime and justice at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

‘Special courts should stay’
Berger hopes that the “special courts” template can be kept after the World Cup to tackle the trio of crimes that have stubbornly resisted a tougher approach on crime in recent years: house robberies, business robberies and car hijacking.

South Africa is famous for its 50 murders a day but the country also endures 18 000 house robberies each year and nearly 15 000 car hijackings.

A survey carried out by the ISS among 30 convicted house robbers showed most had been involved in over 100 robberies before being arrested, Berger said.

The success of the World Cup courts sends a message to criminals that “the chances of getting away with crime are getting smaller,” he said.

Meanwhile, apart from the increased likelihood of getting caught, criminals that target World Cup fans also face stiff sentences.

The 15-year sentences handed to the two men convicted of robbing two Portuguese and a Spanish journalists in their room in Magaliesburg was the maximum sentence for the offence and unusual in a case where no shots were fired.

The men have not yet indicated whether they will appeal the sentence, Tlali said. — Sapa-dpa