South Africa News

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says Criminal Procedures Act of 1977 an untransformed apartheid-era instrument

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola believes the time is ripe for South Africa to reassess the legal frameworks inherited from the apartheid-era, in a bid to formulate a victim-centred legal system, in sync with the democratic dispensation.

“The bedrock of our criminal justice system is the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977,” Lamola said.

“Despite many amendments through the years, it remains largely untransformed from an apartheid-era instrument, to one that best meets the fundamental principles of our new democracy.”

Several activists, legal experts, serving and retired judges, Cabinet ministers and members of the government’s justice and crime prevention cluster are gathered in Boksburg, Gauteng, for a three-day national conference to assess the integrated criminal justice system, and make a close review of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977.

Addressing delegates on Tuesday, Lamola said it was no longer sufficient for South Africa to seek to control crime without endeavouring to prevent it effectively.

This would include building a criminal justice system that is victim-centric, while, through a restorative justice approach, seek to rehabilitate rather than to cut-off avenues away from crime, for offenders.

Lamola said the time has come for us to reimagine and reassess what South Africa inherited during the transition to democracy.

“Much research and investigation has already taken place and we will be hearing about the work done over the next few days as we explore concepts such as alternative dispute resolution in criminal matters; the use of lethal force in effecting arrests, the bail provisions and pre-trial procedures; and, processes to ensure the right to a fair and speedy trial is upheld,” he said.

“Our engagement with and discussions on the thematic areas that will be presented will offer critical insights and recommendations to inform the work being done on the criminal procedure reform,” said Lamola.

“This is a project that will require the constructive engagement of society and those institutions that play a key role in the criminal justice system. There is much to be done over the coming three days.”

In 2020, Lamola tasked the South African Law Reform Commission with reviewing and reforming the criminal justice system. The first project undertaken in this endeavour, was the Criminal Procedure Reform Project.

Robust debates and discussions amongst participants will characterise the conference as participants drawn from the academia, civil society and government engage with the numerous presentations being delivered by experts over the three days.

Lamola added that he was hopeful that the discussions and debates will culminate in concrete recommendations that will take the nation forward in achieving the criminal justice system that achieves safety and security for all.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, in his presentation at the conference, appealed to the judiciary to keep suspected criminals behind bars and not to “dish out bail like it’s hot scones”.

He appealed to members of the judiciary, who include magistrates and judges, to help the police’s crime-fighting efforts by removing accused people or suspected dangerous criminals from society.

“Bail should not just be dished like hot scones. Really, we must find some way of dealing with the bail situation. I know we are putting a lot of pressure on the other system (correctional services) as the police. In the ongoing Operation Shanela we have arrested 442,000 people in 12 months,” said Cele.

He said in some instances, lawyers were working with rogue prosecutors to ensure that accused people were released on bail.

Earlier, Deputy President Paul Mashatile told the gathering that South Africa’s criminal justice system and democracy have been put to the test due to widespread corruption, criminality, gender-based violence and femicide bedevilling the country.

“Crime remains persistent despite the many strategies we have devised to fight it, such as increased police presence, community policing initiatives, and technological investments in surveillance and evidence collection,” he said.

“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’,” said Mashatile.

“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.”

Mashatile said the legal system in South Africa has undergone significant changes since the apartheid era, aiming to ensure fairness and equal opportunities for all citizens.

The event which started on Tuesday was also attended and addressed by delegates including British High Commissioner to South Africa, Antony Phillipson and Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery.

Other attendees include Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, Faith Mazibuko; members of parliamentary portfolio committees; National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi; national commissioners of police, General Fanie Masemola of SA Police Service, national commissioner of Correctional Services, Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale; and national head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya.

-IOL

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