Justice Postponed, is Justice Denied

I spent the entire morning in Court 5 of the Pretoria Regional Court.

I was due to testify as a witness in the house robbery case where my family and I fell victim.

This incident took place in Nov 2013.

I returned to the court building after many years. As a reporter, I spent many long hours in the courts covering stories.

Little seems to have changed. The building is the same old dump. The courtrooms are still filled with stale air and they have not been renovated for years.

The system seems to have also changed little over the years. Case after case gets postponed.
Many prosecutors left at around 11am to attend the funeral of a colleague.

While waiting for the accused in my case to arrive, it was interesting to watch the prosecutors, lawyers, court officials and police officers at work.

Most have no rush…They joke, and walk around. In the public gallery, witnesses and even accused out on bail wait for the next move.

The Magistrate walks in and everyone stands. It appears this is when the serious stuff start.

Postponed…postponed…postponed…yes it continues.

In between an accused appears to be sentenced on a charge of corruption. He has been waiting for ten years for the case to be finalized. The man, a Home Affairs official, took a R2000 bribe from a Pakistani national.

Within 30 minutes, it’s all over. A witness testifies and the State and Defence argue their case. Immediately the magistrate hands down the sentence. 5 years in jail.

The State prosecutors are happy. The Defence lawyer is grumpy. He wants to appeal the conviction and sentence but aborts the application quickly after the magistrate asks whether it is a formal application.

In the meantime, a man shackled is brought into the public gallery by prison warders. He sits a few places away from us in the front row. I immediately recognized him as the suspect in my robbery case. He was apparently sentenced to 5 years in jail on another charge.

Eventually, the two accused are called to the stand and my son and I are asked to leave the courtroom. We are called back and asked to return to court on 28 May. Yes, another postponement.

The magistrate angrily tells the one accused “This is not a circus…” This is in response to him looking around the gallery and fiddling with his hands.

Their lawyers indicates they want to bring another bail application for the one man. This is possibly the fifth attempt.

We need an effective and efficient court system. Delays are causing lots of frustration. The system works far too slow. Promises over the years that things will improve at the lower courts have never materialized.

It’s time for action. The criminal justice system is critical to ensuring that we fight crime effectively. For as long as this does not happen, we are not going to see progress.