Department of Correctional Services asked that court application by rights groups asking for the prison directorate's independence be dismissed. Picture: Brenton Geach/African News Agency (ANA) Archives.
Cape Town - Lawyers for the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) have asked that a court application by Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights, who are seeking greater independence for the Inspectorate of Prisons, be dismissed.

Advocate Marumo Moerane, appearing for the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, said the groups’ contention that the inspectorate lacked structural and operational independence was not correct.

“Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights’ contention that the JICS (Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services), as presently constituted and mandated, lacks the necessary structural and operational independence and legal powers to discharge its functions effectively and to maintain credibility is not correct.

“They’ve failed to provide material facts necessary to sustain the conclusions made in this claim. We submit that the contention by Sonke that the JICS in its current form and structure is ineffective, compromised and has been captured by the department is incorrect.”

In papers Dean Peacock, executive director of the Sonke Gender Justice, said: “Nature and circumstances of incarceration mean prisoners are inherently vulnerable to the risk of violence of their fundamental human rights, such as dignity and freedom from violence, torture and degrading treatment.

Given the particular vulnerability of prisoners to violation of their rights, section 7 (2) of the Constitution cast a positive duty on the State to take reasonable measures to respect, protect and promote fundamental rights of prisoners. But the JICS constituted in terms of the act lacks the necessary independence to be credible and effective in its oversight tasks. The state is therefore failing in its constitutional duty to establish and maintain a prison oversight body which passes constitutional muster.”

Peacock said the JICS as presently constituted was “captured by design”, had neither structural independence nor financial independence and could not sustain a reasonable perception of independence from the DCS.

However, Moerane argued the allegation by Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights to the effect that the State was obliged under section 7 (2) of the Constitution to create a prison inspectorate with sufficient independence to enable it to function effectively was not correct.

He argued that it was not correct that the JICS was dependent on the DCS for funding because they sourced finances from the national Treasury.

He told the court the JICS organisational structure was under review with the primary purpose of ensuring enhanced delivery on its mandate.

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