‘Make use of court watching brief’

2019-10-03 06:00

Minister of Community Safety in the Western Cape Fritz , Albert Fritz has called on the South African Police Services to make better use of court watching briefs.

This was raised in the standing committee on community safety meeting held on Tuesday 1 October.

The department of community safety released its report on ‘measuring police efficiency and effectiveness in the Western Cape’. According to the Western Cape Community Safety Act, Section 8 authorises the department to collect information and maintain an integrated information system. The report covers the period of April 2018 and March 2019, the same period monitored by the annual crime statistics.

Fritz said: “The figures below indicate that the court watching brief unit is not being adequately utilised by police in the Western Cape. This should be immediately rectified as the national minister of police, Bheki Cele, has previously recognised the effectiveness of this programme and called for it to be rolled out in other provinces. I therefore call on police to make better use of this critically important programme which aims to identify the police’s systematic failures.”

The court watching briefs initiative was introduced by the department to act in accordance with the Constitutional provisions contained in Section 206 (3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, which provides interalia that every province is entitled to monitor police conduct and report inefficiencies.

This is also done in accordance with the Western Cape Community Safety Act (Act No 3 of 2013) in particular Section 3.

Members of the Watching Briefs Unit attend courts to observe the procedures in court in order to detect inefficiencies of the police. When inefficiencies are detected, a comprehensive report is compiled. The report is also forwarded to the portfolio committee on community safety. The provincial commissioner will then respond to the department or be requested by the portfolio committee to appear before it and to account for the inefficiencies.

The report revealed a low response from police to their own systematic failures identified by the court watching brief unit.

Response by police to the systematic Failures

Fritz said; “Members of the Court Watching Briefs Unit attend court hearings to observe procedure and detect inefficiencies of the police. When inefficiencies are detected, quarterly reports are compiled and referred to the provincial commissioner. This allows police to take further steps such as placing the case back on the court roll or for the necessary disciplinary action to be taken. However, where no response is received from police, it is unclear whether any action is being taken to address its systematic failures.”

In terms of possession of illegal firearms and ammunition, some of the systematic failures include:

. 52 cases were struck off the court roll in 2018/19;

. 32 investigations were incomplete;

. 16 dockets were not at court; and

. Four forensic reports or ballistic reports were outstanding in the investigation.

A significant number of these cases were recorded in Mitchell’s Plain, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Phillipi and Philippi East, Harare and Manenberg.

“In one case of possession of firearm and ammunition recorded at Athlone Court on 6 September 2018 the matter was postponed to 13 September 2018 for bail information and then to 15 October 2018 for a bail application where bail was granted. The matter was postponed to 11 December 2018 then 5 February 2019 for further investigation. On 5 February 2019 the accused was not at court and the matter resumed on 6 February 2019 but was postponed to 19 February 2019 for further investigation,” says Fritz

“On that date, the matter was postponed to 26 March 2019 because the investigation was still not finalised. On 26 March 2019 the case was withdrawn because the investigation was incomplete. This run around has a catastrophic impact on our criminal justice system and it is vitally important that police both acknowledge and address it.”

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