Phones trip up court

2009-06-18 09:41

Johannesburg – Various criminals, including suspected murderers, are currently on the streets because cases in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court were scrapped due to telephones which have been out of order for months.

Magistrates have warned that more criminals could be set free if the court doesn’t get CDs, which are used to make back-up copies of recordings of court proceedings, soon.

District Magistrate Renier Boshoff on Wednesday said that he and other magistrates were forced to scrap cases over the past few months, since either the dossiers or the witnesses were not in the court – and the telephones couldn’t be used to make enquiries in this regard.

According to court staff, the telephones have been out of order every now and then for the past two years, and have been completely broken for the past four months.

Cut off

“We are completely cut off from the outside world.

“This court must often contact to the Randburg Magistrate’s Court, but due to the broken telephones, nobody is able to do their duties properly.

“Furthermore, the telephone bills of magistrates and prosecutors are incredibly high, because we’re now forced to make these calls in our personal capacity,” said Boshoff.

A prosecutor said that one of her murder cases was postponed six times due to the fact that the dossier was not in the court – after which the magistrate eventually scrapped it from the roll about a month ago.

“We couldn’t phone the Randburg Magistrate’s Court to hear where it was,” she said.

Also, witnesses who can’t be in court on time can’t reach the prosecutor by the court’s landlines.

In such a case, a magistrate can issue a warrant for their arrest, which could lead to innocent people being arrested, said the prosecutor.

Back-up recordings

A further concern is that the court has not had CDs for stenographers to make back-up copies of recordings made during hearings for the past four months.

To make matters worse, the system where these recordings are originally stored is cleared completely every three or four months.

This could mean that, should the stenographers not obtain CDs soon, these recordings could disappear permanently, said Boshoff. Although magistrates also make written notes, this could be problematic, for instance, during appeal cases.

“I’ve postponed court cases because I refuse to work without back-up copies,” said Boshoff.

Cable theft blamed

Zolile Nqayi, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said that cable theft is the cause of the broken telephones.
“Therefore it is beyond the department’s control. However, we are currently looking at a cordless system inside the court.”

He said the decision to make back-up copies of court recordings was only made recently, after some recordings could not be found on the system.

“Last week the court received quotations from suppliers, and the CDs should be here by the end of the week.”