While every crime is a crime too many, we are making progress, says John Jeffrey.
Cape Town - Robin Carlisle’s response (There IS something wrong with crime rate, May 30) refers.
We must not be naive or blasé about crime. We must not become desensitised. We live in a society where too much crime happens. As I’ve previously said, every crime is a crime too many.
But what is important is that crime rates are declining and we are starting to win the war against crime.
Murder rates have reduced by 27.6 percent, attempted murder by 54.6 percent and aggravated robbery by 30.5 percent from 2004/05 to 2011/12. Property crime experienced a decrease of 24 percent over the same period.
Reduced crime levels can be attributed to the increase in visible policing and improved crime-combating initiatives, which were part of the National Crime Prevention Strategy. Improvements in investigations, conviction rates and the imposition of harsher sentences also contribute as disincentives to crime.
Our courts have not been afraid to impose harsh sentences. For example, last week Judge Robert Henney of the Cape High Court commented, in a driveway robbery case, that jail sentences should reflect society’s strong disapproval and abhorrence of driveway and house robberies. He upheld the accused’s 12-year jail sentence.
From the side of government, we have committed ourselves to improving capacity in the criminal justice system, increasing the number of finalised cases, reducing case backlogs and strengthening rehabilitation and victim support programmes. We have more courts and we have more court managers. High conviction rates were maintained throughout all courts, at an average conviction rate of 89 percent.
For Carlisle it seems to be mainly about scoring political points, as he admits in the last paragraph of his piece. If Carlisle is so keen on finger-pointing and playing political tit-for-tat, perhaps he should explain what exactly he, as Western Cape MEC for Transport, has done to fight crime, specifically in respect of the escalating taxi violence in the Western Cape.
It is tragically ironic that the front page of the Cape Times of May 22, in which Carlisle’s first article appeared, carried a story about five people who had been fatally shot near Muizenberg in a taxi shooting. All Carlisle was quoted as saying in response to this was that “investigations are ongoing” and that “it is difficult to pin the incidents on a specific cause”. Not good enough, Mr Carlisle.
Carlisle raises the issue of bail. Despite common perceptions, it is not easy to get bail as we have a strict bail regime. The ANC-led government made it more difficult to get bail as we passed legislation to this effect. In 1997 the passing of the Criminal Procedure Second Amendment Act made it more difficult for an accused to get bail where they have been accused of committing a serious crime.
Section 60 of the Criminal Procedure Act states that where an accused is charged with a serious offence, the accused must be detained in custody, unless the accused can prove to the court that exceptional circumstances exist which in the interests of justice permit his or her release. This means that people who are accused of having committed serious offences have to prove to the court why they should be released on bail, rather than the State having to show why they should be refused bail.
It should be borne in mind that the discretion to grant bail resides with independent magistrates who are presented with all relevant factors in order to make a decision.
The departments in our criminal justice cluster have taken steps to tighten the management of bail applications. Relevant prescripts have been issued to ensure that all relevant information regarding the accused is placed before the court. Training for prosecutors and SAPS members regarding bail applications is ongoing.
In 1997 we passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act which deals with the issue of sentencing in respect of certain serious offences, for example murder and rape. These sentences are more severe in certain circumstances, for instance when the death of a person was caused in the commission of a rape or attempted rape, where the rape victim was raped more than once, where the rapist has previous convictions for rape, where the victim is under the age of 16, or where grievous bodily harm is inflicted.
With regards to the “name and shame” campaign, Carlisle knows that the matter is receiving ongoing attention from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC). Our department currently submits certified lists of names of convicted drunk drivers to the RTMC on a monthly basis. We will certainly continue to follow through with the RTMC and the national Department of Transport with regard to the possible release of these lists of names to the public.
Our department and the other departments in the cluster are committed to further reducing levels of crime, specifically contact crimes like murder, rape and grievous bodily harm.
This will involve intelligence support and co-ordination, more police visibility and focus on hot-spot areas, and addressing the proliferation of firearms.
To further improve the criminal justice system, the capacity of the police, prosecutors, legal aid and courts are being improved. In partnership with communities, which include the formation of street committees and community safety forums, we are strengthening anti-crime awareness campaigns and interventions to combat substance abuse.
We will continue to prioritise incidents of domestic violence and crimes against women and children by further strengthening the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and pursuing a multidisciplinary approach in our fight against violence against women and children.
We are accelerating the integration of the criminal justice system, including access to justice, and will continue to improve the detection of crime and efficiency in the courts with regard to the finalisation of cases.
Carlisle doesn’t provide the details of a single specific incident. His entire piece is based on sweeping generalisations.
If Carlisle has information on cases where, as he claims, “the investigating officer didn’t pitch” or where prosecutors are not doing their jobs or where courts do not function properly, he must bring it to our attention rather than grandstanding in the media.
It is ultimately about the lives of our people and the safety of our communities.
* John Jeffery is Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.