One goal, one nation

2008-11-25 00:00

Clearly, crime in this country is debilitating. We need a massive national onslaught on crime that involves every sector of our society and state. Clearly too, the criminal justice system is not working. We need to revamp it. The government has for some time now been working with Business Against Crime to overhaul the criminal justice system. Parliament welcomes this — but we believe that it is vital that the public is fully involved in shaping the new proposed criminal justice system. Hence the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces parliamentary committees of justice, safety and security and correctional services are having provincial public hearings on the proposed new criminal justice system which started yesterday and which end on December 5.

In November 2007, cabinet approved a seven-point plan to transform the criminal justice system. Basically, the aims of the new system are to:

• improve public confidence in the criminal justice system and enhance its legitimacy;

• remove weaknesses and blockages in the system through short, medium and long-term interventions;

• improve co-ordination and management of the system as a whole;

• put in place an appropriate, effective and integrated information technology and communication system; and

• facilitate community involvement.

A comprehensive analysis of the criminal justice system was undertaken. It was concluded that the system spans multiple government departments and agencies, involving vast personnel, processes and information but is largely fragmented and dysfunctional. The review indicated the need for a radical departure from the present criminal justice system.

On the basis of this, seven far-reaching transformative changes were proposed that would underpin the new criminal justice system.

• The adoption by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster of a single vision and mission leading to a single set of objectives, priorities and performance measurement targets for the criminal justice system. Currently the different departments follow different legislative mandates, visions, missions and performance measures, sometimes leading to inefficiencies and even clashes.

• The establishment of a new, realigned, single, co-ordinating and management structure headed by an executive member with co-ordination and management functions but not executive powers.

• Substantial changes to the present court processes in criminal cases, especially in the regional courts.

• The implementation of key priorities identified for the different stakeholders in the criminal justice system which will impact on the new court pro-cesses, especially those relating to capacity.

• The establishment of an integrated and seamless national criminal justice system information technology system.

• The modernisation of all aspects of the systems and equipment of the criminal justice system.

• The involvement of ordinary people, especially by expanding the role of and providing greater resources for community policing forums.

The aim is to set up a new co-ordinating and management structure from local to national levels bringing together the judiciary, magistracy, police, prosecutors, correctional services, Legal Aid board and community police forums.

Clearly, the state alone will not be able to reduce crime significantly. The public must become more involved. They must contribute to shaping the new system and feel a sense of ownership of it.

The hearings will also focus on the proposed Victims Charter which deals with the rights and obligations of victims and survivors of crime and the services that will be available to them.

The hearings also coincide with the “16 Days of Activism For No Violence Against Women and Children” campaign. The committees are particularly keen to hear from the public about problems they are experiencing in the implementation of the domestic violence legislation.

The hearings will also serve to provide feedback to the public on the new organised crime-fighting unit that will replace the Scorpions.

We cannot expect dramatic changes overnight. Major challenges persist in reducing crime significantly. But, over time, we can succeed in reducing crime. This will only be possible if the state and civil society fully co-operate. It is fundamentally towards this goal that the public hearings are directed.

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