Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

South Africa's criminal justice system is so dysfunctional that it cannot cope with the high level of crime, Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange said yesterday.

He said a large proportion of reported crimes remained undetected and the perpetrators were never found.

"Furthermore, once perpetrators are detected, a substantial number of the cases are closed as unfounded or not establishing prima facie cases, or complainants withdraw charges," De Lange said.

But, De Lange said, he would co-ordinate a government plan to review the system.

The plan includes employing more forensic experts and detectives and introducing a system where police officers are paid according to specialised skills.

Police officers will be able to remain detectives and be paid for specialised skills instead of seeking promotions to management to earn higher salaries. The same will apply to prosecutors who will be able to earn as much as magistrates, but remain prosecutors.

De Lange said it was estimated that every year more than 700000 cases were withdrawn mainly by complainants including relatives or lovers, but there were also those that fall between the cracks due to police corruption and lost dockets.

Other problems plaguing the system were high case loads which lead to poor investigations and low conviction rates.

"People are dumping dockets at the courts' front door, irrespective of the quality of investigations, leading to a situation where several cases are thrown out of court," he said.

The situation was compounded by too few forensic experts and detectives.

Currently 2080 forensic experts deal with more than 600000 cases a year which means that 50percent of crime scenes were not visited for the gathering of scientific evidence.

De Lange also decried the fact that the courts were open for only three and a half hours a day because of the low number of quality cases magistrates had to hear. He said overcrowded jails and a lack of an integrated rehabilitation programme also added to the weakness in the system.

Part of the weakness in the rehabilitation programme was the fact that there was only one social worker for 800 parolees, he said. This created a situation where the public did not have confidence in the parole system because people arrested for crimes were released and repeated the crimes because there was no adequate supervision.