Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffrey should have provided the conviction rates for murder, attempted murder, assault, rape, attempted rape, aggravated robbery and housebreaking, not to mention road death-related culpable homicide, says the writer. File photo: Henk Kruger

It is a shocking affront to the intelligence of all South Africans that a deputy cabinet minister can say all is well in the criminal justice system, says Robin Carlisle.

Cape Town - Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery’s reply to my contention that the criminal justice system had collapsed (See Related Artciles above) could not miss the point more widely.

It is not the police, the prosecutors or the magistrates that are responsible for the crime catastrophe in South Africa. It is the political bosses like Jeffery and former Minister Jeff Radebe who have ensured that crime will and does triumph.

It is therefore a shocking affront to the intelligence of all South Africans that a deputy cabinet minister can write a lengthy piece claiming all is well in the criminal justice system, especially while the Khayelitsha Commission of Enquiry is finishing its work, and the whole mess has been dragged into the light of day for all to see.

Jeffery points to a decrease in selected serious crime rates as proof that criminal justice is working effectively but does not support this contention with evidence that other factors are not involved. And he certainly doesn’t raise the spectre of under-reporting. Economic growth, albeit slow, has undoubtedly played a part. More effective gun control is widely believed by the academic and scientific community to be behind the decrease in the murder rate, rather than effective policing and the conviction of murderers.

What is telling is that Jeffery relies for his contention that the criminal justice system has “maintained exceptional conviction rates” on a handful of crimes that are not central to the day-to-day threat of violent death or assault that the average South African faces. He should have provided the conviction rates for murder, attempted murder, assault, rape, attempted rape, aggravated robbery and housebreaking, not to mention road death-related culpable homicide.

The real insult here is to ordinary South Africans, who actually have to deal with the real criminal justice system, as opposed to the fantastical one that appears for celebrity trials, or when the deputy minister attempts to assure us that all is well. These are the people who are ignored or fobbed off when they go into a police station to report a crime. People attacked in their homes who identify the assailant, with no consequences. Girls who are raped, then raped again in the child protection unit when they report the crime. The ageing gogo of an Aids orphan who is ignored when she tries to lay charges against the drunk who killed the little boy. The parents who watch, helpless, as the case against a gangster who shot their small child dead in a crossfire, is thrown out of court after the key state witness was put in the back of the same van as the accused on the way to court, and mysteriously changes his testimony.

I, along with millions of others, have experienced that too few crimes are investigated, that dockets are often lost, that investigating officers often don’t pitch and that prosecutors have been known to go on lunch break in the middle of proceedings.

The result of all this is that 80 percent of shameless killers walk free and a string of predatory defence advocates laugh all the way to the bank. Our courts have been known to grant R300 bail to murder-accused gangsters, and are surprised when witnesses suddenly retract testimony, or, when letting a killer drunk driver walk free, tell the father of the dead child that “people die, that’s life, it happens every day”.

It is hardly surprising that around R7 billion per year is paid in damages to members of the public in lawsuits against the police (2011/12 figure). Jeffery falls back on the defence of claiming the judiciary is sacrosanct and any criticism of it is tantamount to storming the Union Buildings or burning copies of the constitution. The same argument has been made by Jeffery’s cronies about a man’s cattle kraal, with equal irrelevance. If something is wrong, there is nothing wrong with pointing it out.

Jeffery is also quite simply wrong about the Name and Shame campaign. (Western Cape) Premier Helen Zille agreed in a meeting with him nearly a year ago that so long as the Department of Justice and the RTMC were actually going to release the names of convicted drunk drivers, we would then be silent on the issue. Jeffery, together with Hishaam Mohamed, the Head of Department in the Western Cape, gave an absolute assurance that this was on track, and that the names were to be released in August last year. Mohamed stated that the exact date could be obtained from the RTMC. The RTMC claimed that the release was meant to be in Transport Month 2013, that is, last October. As is well known, nothing has happened since then.

Jeffery goes on to suggest that I should ignore the repeated assurances from his department and from the RTMC to myself and to LeadSA, and go out and hire some full-time government employees at taxpayer expense to go around the province manually collecting names from the courts.

Jeffery portrays me as insulting police and prosecutors. If demanding that they do their jobs is insulting them, then yes, I am insulting the lazy, useless ones. On the other hand, any genuinely hard-working policeman or prosecutor who has come across me knows how I have put myself and the resources of my department entirely at their disposal, from funding top legal counsel to providing expert witnesses.

And as for his suggestion that I am sensationalising the issue and scoring political points, 100 percent agree. The issue is sensational. And, of course, I’m scoring points – welcome to politics, John!

* Robin Carlisle is the immediate past Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Times