A ponderous, tardy system of justice

Police are always criticised when they fail to arrest criminal suspects.

Police are always criticised when they fail to arrest criminal suspects.

But when they act swiftly and bring the culprits to book, their efforts are often bogged down by the slow judicial process - resulting in the delay or compromising of justice.

A synchronised judiciary complemented by well-functioning components of the whole criminal justice system can only inspire public confidence in its efficiency and integrity.

But for a long time now the high and lower courts have been buckling under the heavy workload of cases, impacting negatively on the administration of justice.

Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng this week postponed the Jeppestown massacre trial being heard in the Johannesburg high court to October, simply because there was an acute shortage of judges.

Such postponements obviously frustrate the investigating officers, who themselves have to contend with case workloads.

The domino effect for both the judiciary and the police will be the clogging of the criminal justice system, undermining the constitutional imperative of speedy and fair trials.

The correlation between the shortage of judges and the problem of overcrowding in prisons, where suspects are unnecessarily awaiting trial for long periods at huge expense to the state, is self-evident.

Yet the courts are expected to speed up the wheels of justice so that justice is seen to be done. The victims also need closure and relief - similarly in the case of awaiting trial suspects, who might argue that justice delayed is justice denied.

In the Jeppestown case, detectives have had to wait anxiously for more than a year for the court to determine the fate of the 13 suspects who are facing charges of murder and armed robbery.

This is unacceptable.

This situation cries out for urgent redress from Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Brigitte Mabandla before more damage is done.