Cape Town - Suspects often walk free from the Khayelitsha Magistrate's Court because police dockets do not arrive on time, a senior prosecutor said on Thursday.
Testifying at the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, prosecutor Rochelle Harmse said: “On a daily basis dockets are not brought to court.”
This hampered prosecutors, who were unable to do their jobs without the dockets.
“All the information required for a prosecutor to be able to make decisions come from the docket,” Harmse said.
“You are not going to be able to lead your witnesses without a docket... you cannot proceed to trial without that docket.”
Harmse said it was the responsibility of police, particularly investigating officers, to ensure dockets arrived in court on time.
Monthly case flow management meetings were held to ensure bottlenecks were cleared.
At times these meetings would lead to an improvement in the situation but more often than not the situation would go back to “normal” with dockets not arriving on time, or not at all.
The end result would be numerous requests for postponements, as prosecutors were unable to proceed with matters.
Postponements would lead to an infringement of the right to a speedy trial.
“The state is forced to withdraw the matter,” said Harmse.
She also related her frustrations in working with the police family violence, child protection, and sexual offences (FCS) unit.
“The challenges that I observed in the operation of the FCS unit was that the investigating officers would inform me that they have so many case dockets,” she said.
Her evidence corroborated that of a doctor working with rape cases, who last week told the commission one FCS officer had 180
dockets on his desk.
Delays in investigations and incomplete dockets would lead to suspected rapists going free.
“Many of the cases were withdrawn or struck from the roll.”
Commission chairwoman Kate O'Regan interjected, asking Harmse to compare her experiences with dockets at the Mitchells Plain court, where she was previously deployed, to her time in Khayelitsha.
“It's more serious in Khayelitsha,” Harmse replied.
The commission was set up by Western Cape premier Helen Zille to probe accusations by civil society formations that police inaction was leading to an increase in “mob justice” killings in the area.
The Social Justice Coalition alleged police inefficiency was leading to criminals running rampant in the sprawling township, and residents being forced to take the law into their own hands.
The commission's activities were delayed for some time when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa tried to have the inquiry scrapped.
Mthethwa lost his legal bid to stop the commission in the Constitutional Court in October last year.