Breytenbach: Decay of SA's justice system must end

Former National Prosecuting Authority employee turned MP Glynnis Breytenbach wants to fight for prosecutorial independence this year. (Theana Breugem, Gallo)

Former National Prosecuting Authority employee turned MP Glynnis Breytenbach wants to fight for prosecutorial independence this year. (Theana Breugem, Gallo)

This year, former National Prosecuting Authority employee turned MP Glynnis Breytenbach plans to dedicate a lot of her time to the fight for prosecutorial independence in the country. 

The Democratic Alliance is planning to reintroduce a Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament this year, which the former prosecutor believes will go a long way towards rebuilding the credibility of the National Prosecuting Authority.

Speaking to the Cape Town press club this afternoon, Breytenbach said the Bill will seek to amend section 179 of the Constitution by addressing the appointment procedure of the National Director of Public Prosecutions.  

“Prosecution in South Africa was intended to be free, fair and unadulterated by politics. It is now dominated by it.  

“It is my pledge, here, on this day, on behalf of the Democratic Alliance to do everything in our power to ensure that state institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority are not abused without consequence. Our criminal justice system depends on it.”

She said prosecutorial independence has been dying in the country, listing different cases from the President Jacob Zuma’s spy tapes case, and to the more recent suspension of Hawks head Anwa Dramat. Dramat was suspended in December by police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko for his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean nationals in 2010. 

She said the allegations against Dramat were baseless and he had already been cleared by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). 

“With every blow to our prosecutorial independence, it is clear that to stop the unrelenting decay of our nations criminal justice system, Parliament has to make the necessary legislative reforms to ensure that rank political meddling is kept at bay once and for all,” the DA shadow minister of justice said. 

‘Didn’t work then, won’t work now’
But, according Advocate Paul Hoffman, the strategy will not work. Hoffman, from the Institute of Accountability, said the DA would not go far with the Bill. 

“The ANC has 62% of the votes in Parliament and it is all in the president’s hand.
It didn’t work when [former DA MP] Dene Smuts tried to do it a couple of years ago and it won’t work now when she [Breytenbach] tries.” 

Hoffman, who also attended the Press Club briefing today, said the only way the problems within the NPA could be fixed was if people were appointed only on merit. 

“Only when cadres are not deployed to those positions to protect those who seek to abuse the system. They are only going to get that right only when people are chosen not because of their loyalty to Zuma, but because of their loyalty to the Constitution.”

Prosecutorial independence
Breytenbach said the NPA was not unfixable, but it would need to be independent to be credible. 

“There is a lot that can be done to fix it, and every day that goes by will make it harder. The organisation itself is not a useless one; there are a lot of frustrated workers ready to do the job. But the fact of the matter is it’s very hard to do a job as a prosecutor when you can’t even prosecute those in the wrong.”

She said prosecutorial independence would go a lot way towards motivating prosecutors in doing their job, without political interference. “If you ask any prosecutor now why they do not investigate politically connected cases, they will say ‘are you mad? Do you think we are stupid? Look what happened to you?”

The MP said the essential components of a young democracy are the rule of law and a robust criminal justice system. 

“Which is dependent upon the principle of prosecutorial independence for its successful existence. South Africa has, if not the strongest, then one of the strongest constitutional legislative frameworks in the world. It is designed to ensure that all her citizens live in safety and security, and that everyone is equal before the law. It is these principles that should guide the criminal justice system in the performance of its duties, guided always by the prescripts of the Constitution and the principle of the Rule of Law.”