Modernising SA's justice system

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pretoria - The South African justice system is doing all it can to stay up-to-date with modernisation to help ease the burden on the criminal justice system, says Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe. 

He told a Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster media briefing today that they were moving full steam ahead with implementing the recommendations of the Criminal Justice System Review, which include the modernisation of the system.

Radebe said his department had already rolled out the efficient, time and cost saving, state-of-the-art system for the trial of detainees, dubbed the Audio Visual Remand System, to 47 courts and 22 correctional centres.

Of the 47 courts, 17 were already operational, while 10 of the 22 systems at correctional centres were operational.

Radebe envisaged that the rest of the courts will be operational by the end of September. 

The audio visual system was for those accused aged above 18, had appeared in court before and were remanded in custody pending trial. The system will also be used by witnesses abroad, cutting down on travel costs and time.

"The use of technology in this area proved to be a modernisation aspect of immense benefit to the criminal justice system," said Radebe.

The cluster -- made up of the Departments of Correctional Services, Defence, Home Affairs, Police and State Security -- has also embraced biometric fingerprint technology, known as the Automated Fingerprint and Identification System (AFIS) at correctional facilities. The use of the system is now a mandatory practice within the process of clearance checks for criminal records.

The system has been installed in 145 sites, for capturing and storage of fingerprint data, added Radebe. 

On case backlogs countrywide, Redebe said there was a marked decrease in that there was a number of outstanding cases from 218 660 to 197 391, about 9.7%, during March and June 2011. 

This has now further decreased between June and July 2011, from 197 391 to 192 487, which indicates a reduction of 4 905 cases in that period.

Radebe attributed the reduction to the countrywide 56 regional backlog courts and 22 district courts. 

The cluster also announced that they plan to conduct a Parole Management and Electronic Monitoring pilot, which will focus on a phased fast-tracking of implementing electronic monitoring for parolees and probationers. 

Radebe says the use of electronic monitoring will lead to the diversion of those convicted of minor offences away from custodial sentences to perform community service, while the department will be able to account for their geographical location. 

The electronic tagging and monitoring pilot will be done on lifers who have been granted parole by December 2011. 

So far, in line with the Constitutional Court ruling, the Minister of Correctional Services has also considered 296 out of 386 cases of inmates who had been sentenced to life imprisonment before 1 March 1994. 

Out of these, 40 inmates have been granted full parole, 72 have been granted day parole and 182 did not qualify for placement on parole.

The cluster is also making strides in rolling out Victim Support Rooms (VSRs) in an effort to show empathy to victims of violent crime, especially in cases of sexual offences, child abuse and domestic violence.

From April to August this year, they have increased the number of VSRs from 806 to 900 across the country.

These facilities compliment the Thuthuzela Care Centres and are meant for interviews, statement-taking and other consultations. There are currently 27 fully operational Thuthuzela Care Centres in the country and nine more are being established this year. 

Radebe said plans were also in full swing to relocate women offenders who are serving time with their babies in correctional centres into new-generation Mother and Child facilities, where the environment will be most conducive for the child's development.

"We have recently opened such facilities in Cape Town and Durban. A roll-out of these facilities to other centres will soon take place," said Radebe.

On the down side, there has been an increase in the number of sex offenders registered on the national register from 1 202 to 1 612 during April and August 2011. 

This register is intended to protect children and mentally disabled persons from persons who have been convicted of sexual offences. 

All court orders that relate to convictions of this crime under the new Sexual Offences Act continue to be captured on the register.

Radebe hoped that the Correctional Matters Amendment Act, which came into effect on 1 September, will further enhance the effectiveness and integration of the country's criminal justice system.

The act, which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in May, stipulates that detainees may not spend more than seven days in police custody, whatever the reason.

It also proposes that a suspect awaiting trial could not be detained in a correctional facility for more than two years. - BuaNews 

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