Current legal framework requires transformation to align with society’s need

Deputy President Paul Mashatile says although much has been done to address challenges in the criminal justice system, the current legal framework requires transformation and amendments that align with society in its current form.

He was delivering the keynote address at the official opening of the National Conference on the implementation of the Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS) programme and the review of the Criminal Procedure Act.

The conference is expected to be held over the next three days.

“For many years, the integrated criminal justice system and the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977 have had a profound impact on how we handle law enforcement, prosecution, and adjudication in South Africa.

“However, we must examine the current legal framework and identify areas that require transformation or amendment. Our laws must be responsive to the changing needs of society and aligned with international standards,” he said.

Challenges

Mashatile said the criminal justice system “has been put to the test due to widespread corruption, criminality, gender-based violence and femicide” and added that despite government’s concerted efforts, crime remains persistent.

“The prosecution and judicial systems are overburdened; the correctional service is overcrowded, and the police system continues to be besieged as the state fights to prosecute and punish criminal behaviour, frequently compromising on ‘zero-tolerance’ pledges to ‘punish at all costs’.

“Looking at these challenges, it is easy to grow despondent, but we must never be discouraged. Instead, we must double our efforts to reach our desired goal,” he said.

Outlining government’s actions to combat crime and corruption, Mashatile told the conference that tackling lawlessness is government’s top priority.

“We are tackling significant commercial and serious organised crime through the developed Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation Operational Committee, currently known as the National Priority Crimes Operational Committee (NPCOC) under the South African Police Service Act.

“Through the Integrated Task Force, we are coordinating the implementation of 205 recommendations for criminal investigations made by the Zondo State Capture Commission. As it stands, three convictions secured and 11 cases are currently before court relating to 36 recommendations. The remaining recommendations are still under investigation,” he said.

Turning to gender-based violence and femicide, Mashatile said the courts are now coming down harder on perpetrators of the scourge.

He said laws that have been passed and Bills at the desk of the National Assembly are enabling the courts to be more efficient and effective in dealing with GBVF.

“In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the courts have shown a 27.9% increase in life imprisonment sentences for GBVF at Thuthuzela Care Centres, indicating the courts’ robust approach to combating GBVF. Most significantly, the National Assembly approved the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill, which is currently under the National Council of Provinces review.

“The government is responding swiftly to the GBVF epidemic by putting an emphasis on robust institutions and solid evidence. In late 2020, the Department of Justice introduced three amendment bills including the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act 12 of 2021, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 13 of 2021, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14 of 2021.

“The latter Act established an electronic repository for domestic violence protection orders, which became operational on April 14, 2023,” he said.

Loss of trust

The Deputy President acknowledged that despite government embarking on crime intervention strategies and other initiatives, “it is concerning the most recent Statistics South Africa Victims of Crime Survey indicates that confidence in our criminal justice system is declining”.

As a result of this, he revealed that the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster is embarking on key interventions to address the challenge of crime.

These include, amongst others:

Maintaining targeted efforts to address gender-based violence and femicide and its impact on individuals and communities.

Establishing an independent entity called the Investigating Directorate against Corruption within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Enhancing the effectiveness of the Whistle-Blowers Act.

Finalising revisions to the Criminal Procedure Act to bolster efforts to combat both crime and corruption.

“As we look towards the future, let us commit to further enhancing and protecting this crucial institution to ensure a just and fair society for all South Africans.

“I am optimistic about the potential outcomes that will emerge from the conference’s discussions, which will ultimately shape the ongoing evolution of the criminal justice system,” Mashatile concluded. 

(With Inputs from South African Government Press Release)

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