Robin Carlisle’s sensationalising and politicking on the issue of crime will not solve anything, says John Jeffrey.
Cape Town - Robin Carlisle’s article “Criminal justice has collapsed” (Killer drunk drivers are laughing on IOL)
is an insult to every hard-working and dedicated police officer, prosecutor, magistrate, judge and court official working in our criminal justice system.
It is also extremely one-sided and does not take cognisance of the facts.
The truth of the matter is that since 2004 incidents of crime declined against the increase in population figures. In particular, there has been a steady decrease in the incidents of serious crimes.
Serious crimes comprise the following categories: contact crime, such as murder, sexual offences, robbery, assault, arson, damage to property; property-related crime such as burglary, theft of vehicles and stock theft; so-called “trio crimes” such as carjacking, residential and business robbery; and “other” serious crime such as commercial crime and theft.
Serious crime has declined by 8 percent from 2008/09 to 2011/12, while contact crime has declined by 12.3 percent and trio crime has declined by 14.1 percent over the same period. Murder rates have dropped by 27.6 percent, attempted murder by 54.6 percent and aggravated robbery by 30.5 percent from 2004/05 to 2011/12. These figures are internationally accepted. In October, the US-based IHS Crime Index released a report which found that crime in South Africa is at its lowest level in 15 years.
Carlisle further refers to “undertrained detectives”. The fact of the matter is that there has been focused attention on training detectives. This has led to an increase of 26.28 percent in trial-ready dockets between 2010/11 to 2012/13.
Carlisle then refers to staff as “inappropriate and incompetent”. This statement is a slap in the face to our prosecutors and our courts.
Our National Prosecuting Authority is effectively prosecuting complex commercial crime, organised crime and trio crimes, and has maintained exceptional conviction rates in all these prosecutions. The conviction rate in complex commercial crime was 92.9 percent, trio crime was 83.4 percent and organised crime was 90.7 percent.
Carlisle then continues to make mention of tax collection and the creation of special courts. Once again, had Carlisle bothered to check, he would be aware that we have done exactly that.
Various specialised and dedicated courts have also been created to attend to priority areas such as constitutional, labour, land-claim, competition, election, tax, small-claims and equality matters and sexual offences. We have built 43 new courts since 1994, of which nine new courts were built between 2009 and 2013. A further 24 branch courts have been elevated into full-service courts as part of the re-demarcation of magisterial districts. This is just one of the many initiatives that provides enhanced access to our people and reduces the distance that both victims of crime and witnesses in court cases have to travel to get to court.
Specific attention has also been given to the protection of vulnerable groups such as women and children. After 1994, special interventions were introduced to combat violence against women and children.
These interventions include specialised courts dealing with sexual offences; Thuthuzela care centres; specialised police units; victim-friendly rooms at police service points; empowering SAPS members, prosecutors and magistrates with specialised skills; and keeping sexual offenders on long-term supervision on their release from prison.
Child justice has been reformed and children in conflict with the law are now diverted away from the normal justice processes towards programmes aimed at assisting these children.
The Children’s Act deals with issues affecting children who are in need of care and protection, and makes decisions about children who are abandoned, neglected or abused. There is now a children’s court in every magistrates’ court.
In addition, the Child Justice Act has created a justice system for all children aged 11-18 who are in conflict with the law. The courts ensure the rights of children are protected in all interactions with the criminal justice system and that diversion and rehabilitative measures are taken wherever appropriate.
Sexual Offences courts are being rolled out across South Africa and will assist in improving convictions for such crimes as well as empower victims. Dealing with sexual-offences matters through dedicated court support services such as the increased appointment of intermediaries has been strengthened. There are currently 176 specialised family violence, child protection and sexual offences units operational throughout the country under the Detective Division within SAPS. In support of the investigation of such crimes, 2 139 forensic social workers were appointed. The government has also established 39 fully functional Thuthuzela Care Centres, which serve as one-stop centres for incidents of rape.
Collectively, these interventions have led to 1 194 life sentences during the past three years.
We have also recently launched our LGBTI Programme to assist in the prevention of hate crimes and all forms of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons and cases relating to the LGBTI groups are been fast-tracked. But Carlisle makes no mention of it.
Then Carlisle continues to insult the judiciary by stating that the selection and appointment of the judiciary has often “not taken merit into account” and that “sentences are laughable”.
Statements such as these made by Carlisle are highly irresponsible as they infringe on the independence of our judiciary and break down public trust in our courts and the rule of law.
Our judiciary has been recognised as a branch of the state equal in status to the legislature and executive in an effort to ensure separation of powers. The Office of the Chief Justice was established and it has embarked on improving the effectiveness of the courts through judicial leadership in case-flow management and the development of norms and standards for courts.
Then there is the issue of the Name and Shame Campaign where the names of those convicted of drunk driving were published. Carlisle creates the impression in his article that this campaign has “been taken out of usage and will be back ‘one day’.”
This is simply not true. The truth of the matter is that the process for dealing with the reporting requirements for drunken driving convictions has been finalised and a partnership has been established with the Road Traffic Management Corporation through the national Department of Transport.
The relevant information on drunken driving convicted offenders is handed over to the management of the corporation as per the existing Memorandum of Understanding. In addition, drunken driving convictions are matters of public record and any person can approach the courts to access such records. This was communicated to Carlisle on numerous occasions last year, but he refuses to acknowledge it.
Carlisle also avers that “29 members of the taxi industry have been murdered” and that “none of the alleged murderers are currently in custody and none have been convicted”.
This is incorrect, as five persons have been charged in three of the cases and all cases which are not yet on the court roll are still being investigated. With regards to the major bus accidents, Carlisle is also wrong, as the accused in the De Doorns accident case was found guilty and sentenced; in the Knysna case a formal inquest has been convened and the Oudtshoorn case is still under investigation.
With regards to the use of the Breathalyser, Carlisle is referred to the high court case of State v Hendricks. In this case, the court identified certain problems with the breath-testing regime such as the certification issue, the applicable regulations and the calibration process.
During the Hendricks trial, evidence was presented that a machine which is fitted with a temperature sensor prevents a potential erroneous reading in subjects whose actual breath temperature does not correlate with the expected average. In order to meet these requirements, a completely new specification for Breathalysers had to be drafted.
The process is reaching finalisation and Breathalysers will be used again shortly.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that every crime is a crime too many. Every person affected by crime must be supported and assisted and our criminal justice system seeks to do exactly that.
We need to work together. Carlisle’s sensationalising and politicking on the issue will not solve anything.
* John Jeffery is Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.