Justice minister tables department’s plans following the arrests of thousands of people during unrest

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Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola outlines correctional services processes at Estcourt Correctional Centre. Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola outlines correctional services processes at Estcourt Correctional Centre. Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

No one who took part in acts of criminality in the rest looting and unrest will evade justice.

That’s according to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, who on Wednesday outlined the processes to be followed with the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the recent unrest.

Speaking during the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on Wednesday morning, Minister Lamola said his department needs to ensure that our criminal justice system remains firm.

He said the department has issued directions to help manage case backlogs as well as cases emanating from the recent public violence and disorder in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and other parts of the country.

He said the backlogs will be managed by ensuring they have priority rolls for cases such as gender-based violence and femicide, sexual offences, corruption cases, partly-heard cases and trial-ready cases where the presiding officers decide they be included.

He said the directions provide opportunities to implement special measures to address the spiralling case backlog caused by the hard lockdown.

He said their directions also provide for alternative dispute resolution mechanism.

“In terms of the directions, the National Prosecuting Authority may, where the accused is charged with a less serious offence in respect of which an admission of guilt is permissible and justified, fix an appropriate amount as an admission of guilt in respect of the accused person concerned,” said Lamola.

He said this creates an opportunity for diversion in respect of children.

“It facilitates the involvement of other community structures to facilitate restorative justice. And it creates a mechanism for non-custodial sentences as a form of restorative justice to minimise over-crowding.”

Lamola said they have also re-worked their operating model.

“In a period like this, we cannot afford to work in silos.

“We have an integrated task team on the management of unrest and related cases.”

The task team convened by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development comprises of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Legal Aid SA, South African Police Services, and the Department of Correctional Services.

It has specific terms of reference and it must:

1. Receive and validate reports and statistics from KZN & Gauteng provinces

2. Attend to blockages across the criminal justice value chain

3 Address escalated matters for decisions and escalate where necessary

4. Facilitate resource allocation where necessary

5. Adopt a Project Management Approach to resolving operational challenges

6. Consider and address concerns and views raised by Magistrates in their interface with Ministry / DOJ&CD.

Lamola said the NPA has considered the operational impact of the unrests. He said KwaZulu- Natal and Gauteng provinces bear most of the challenges.

“Amongst those challenges is the limited staff at offices due to Covid-19 related reasons as well as transport problems occasioned by the unrest.

“Another challenge is overcrowding of South African Police Services cells, and as a result, quick processing of detainees will be required when large numbers of arrests are made.”

The Minister said the operational plan will address collaboration between the NPA and SAPS, where many of these cases would likely amount to theft rather than mere possession of stolen property.

In collaboration with SAPS, emerging cases will be divided into four categories:

1) Actual looters and persons participating in stealing from shops and outlets

2) Persons found in possession of stolen properties

3) Groups and individuals stealing property in big quantities, organised or planned action

4) Enticement or inciting public violence

Lamola said experienced prosecutors have been assigned from Organised Crime and Priority Crime Litigation Unit. Crime heads in the provinces under the direction of the Directors Public Prosecutions are assigned to deal with more complicated and serious matters.

“In terms of the NPA policies, where it is justifiable, cases which relate to people in possession of stolen goods or people who participated in looting may result in restorative justice or alternative measures such as admission of guilt, diversion and plea agreements as a means of finalising it.”

He said from a Correctional Services perspective, they are required to reconfigure the remand detention system that is already overburdened.

“We have received a high number of remand detainees in KZN and Gauteng regions, as a result of arrests made for recent criminal acts and violence. To date, a total of 1 498 remand detainees have been admitted in our facilities.

“Our facilities are stretched due to overcrowding and our challenges are also exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“However, we continue to mitigate against challenges through various measures. Both regions of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, are coping and they continue to admit new inmates. We ensure that new detainees are isolated for Covid-19 screening and observation, before they interact with the general inmate population,” he said.

Lamola reiterated that no one who took part in acts of criminality would evade justice.

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