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.


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  • It’s really sad that so many things are broken and yes, justice postponed/delayed is indeed Justice denied. What really gets to me is how neither the courts, nor law enforcement agencies have any blind regard whatsoever for people’s time. To them, it’s completely acceptable to postpone repeatedly – after all, as a witness who has been subpoenaed to testify, you will be “paid witness fees” which are little more than a partial reimbursement of your traveling expenses. Unfortunately however, it’s not just witnesses who are treated in this manner; those accused of crimes are treated similarly and in some cases, these people are eventually acquitted, or charges against them are withdrawn. Some of these people spend ages in jail awaiting trial, simply because they can’t afford bail, while truly dangerous criminals manage to get and pay bail without a problem. Before I take your blog over entirely with my comment, Yusuf, let me just end by saying that a serious overhaul of our criminal justice system is way overdue and there doesn’t appear to be any serious effort being applied to changing that situation.

  • There was nothing bizarre; it is a standard procedure.You are made to leave a court as a witness for te sake of free and fair trail; you cannot hear a testimony of the effect because you will disadvantage the body of witness.
    It is to avoid colluding and trim your testimony to suit your story; than helping the court to re-construct what happen on the day of the said date.When crime was commission.The witnesses are ergered not to debate or share ideas about how to give testimony.It is a subjudice clause and other legality of jurest; thinking the witness might orchestrate or force a fear.
    I hope my answer would be helpful and could form a building block for many other think alike evcen better equip legal expert in the field.As the saying goes “Rome was not build in a day”; small bites would ultimately finish a big elephant.Thus the value of sharing a thought or two.
    The same is when a minor appears before the court; it is only family and guardian whom are allowed to remain; while the case is hear in camera

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