Overcrowded jails a sign NPA is doing a good job – Jeff Radebe

2013-05-29 14:44

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Busy courts and overcrowded jails indicate the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is doing a good job, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has said.

He made the statement when pressed by the media today about the NPA’s failure to heed the Supreme Court of Appeal’s order to release the so-called Zuma spy tapes, and its decision to go to court to challenge the effective reinstatement of senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach.

“I am satisfied that they are doing a good job. If we look at the number of people that our courts convict on a daily basis, if you look at the number of prisoners that are in our courts, there is a complaint that there is overcrowding of our prisons,” he told journalists ahead of debate on his budget vote in the National Assembly.

“People don’t volunteer to go to prison. It is because we’ve got energetic prosecutors on all levels in our country who prosecute without fear or favour or prejudice.”

Radebe became visibly irate when it was suggested that the argument was nonsensical, because overcrowding was due, in part, to accused waiting for long periods for their cases to come to trial.

“The nonsense you are talking about is with you, not with the system,” he retorted, ending the briefing.

Later, during the debate in the House, Democratic Alliance MP Debbie Schafer responded to the prisons remark: “Well minister, about a third of those people are awaiting trial. Nice try.”

Radebe declined to say whether the NPA would release the spy tapes if the High Court in Pretoria ordered it to do so.

“That matter is before our courts,” he said.

The recordings formed the basis for a decision in 2009 by then acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe to drop corruption and fraud charges against President Jacob Zuma.

In March 2012, the Supreme Court of Appeal gave the NPA 14 days to produce the documents. But instead of handing the transcripts over in April last year, it gave them to Zuma’s lawyer Michael Hulley.

Radebe said Zuma was still weighing the appointment of a new NPA head.

Nomgcobo Jiba has been acting as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) since January 2011, after a DA challenge to the tenure of Menzi Simelane succeeded.

According to media reports last month, Zuma was poised to appoint Magistrate Stanley Gumede to the post, and Advocate Guido Penzhorn as the new head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Radebe said in his budget speech: “The president is giving due consideration regarding the filling of the positions of the NDPP and head of the SIU. I will discourage against speculation until appointments have been made by the president.”

In her response, DA MP Dene Smuts warned that if Zuma failed to appoint a suitable person as head of the NPA, her party would again go to court to challenge his decision.

Smuts said the appointment should be taken out of the president’s hands. She would be tabling a private members’ bill to this end, and to change the composition of the much criticised Judicial Service Commission, where the president appointed four members.

Radebe responded that the Constitutional Court had accepted the president’s powers, and suggested that the DA’s real frustration was with ANC majority rule.

Schafer said it was untenable that the SIU had had an acting head for 17 months, and in the person of Nomvula Mokhatla, one that had undermined its functioning.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Koos van der Merwe said there was a perception that judicial transformation was flawed and that the JSC appointed “incompetent black judges”.

However, Van der Merwe, who is a member of the JSC defended its integrity.

Radebe earlier said 61% of all judges were black, but this progress was undermined by the fact that there were too few women on the bench.

“The strides we have made regarding the appointment of judges of colour are negated by the acute underrepresentation of women on the bench.”

He said the state was seeking to remedy this by briefing more female black lawyers.

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