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NPA highlights success and challenges

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Justice done

Advocate Abram Botha. Picture: Danie van der Lith

MORE than 40 000 criminal court matters were finalised in the Northern Cape in the last financial year. This is according to advocate Abram Botha, the acting director of Public Prosecutions in the Northern Cape.

During a media interaction session yesterday, Botha pointed out that communities were being overwhelmed with media coverage on crime. “And rightly so: these incidents have to be reported on,” he said.

“In many instances these criminals are never brought to book – for various reasons – causing the community to lose confidence in the criminal justice system.”

He pointed out, however, that there were positive results.

“The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has identified one strategic objective, namely increased successful prosecution,” Botha stated, pointing out that the NPA was primarily a victim-orientated institution, tasked with the responsibility of upholding the interests of victims and ensuring that justice is being done.”

Botha pointed out that in the last financial year, the conviction rate in the high court in the Northern Cape was 92 percent (against a target of 87 percent), while the conviction rate in the regional court was 77.3 percent (target 74 percent) and in the district court it was 94.4 percent (target 88 percent).

The number of criminal cases finalised with a verdict in the Province, namely 11 912, was slightly lower (2.4 percent) than the target of 12 208, and the number of cases finalised through Alternative Dispute Resolution Management (ADRM) was 4 872 (15.3 percent higher than the target of 4 202).

The number of criminal court matters finalised (including admission of guilt, mediation, etc) was 37.4 percent higher than the target of 29 889, with 40 681 cases finalised.

The conviction rate in sexual offences was 6.2 percent lower than the target, with an achievement of 62.7 percent against the target of 69 percent. For trio crimes, including house robberies, business robberies and carjackings, the achievement was 93.3 percent against a target 85 percent.

Explaining the conviction rate for sexual offences, which was lower than the target, Botha pointed out that in the last two months the provincial NPA office had reached its target “due to hard work”.

“Two training sessions for prosecutors at the Sexual Offences Court were held.”

He added, however, that as many of the complainants were minors this made it difficult to prove the case in court.

“Complainants are also usually on their own when they are raped so there is a single witness. We are aware of these issues, however, and are addressing them.”

Botha stated that the conviction rate in violent protests and industrial actions was also 35.6 percent below target. “This is one of the more problematic crimes to prosecute and is a matter of national concern. The problem normally is proper identification of perpetrators, leading to acquittals in courts.”

He added that his office was working with the police in an endeavour to solve these problems.

“The theft of copper, where our conviction rate is 26 percent above target, is also a national concern and very strict legislation, with heavy minimum sentences of imprisonment which can be imposed, was enacted to address this problem.”

Botha also expressed concern over the widespread incidence of corruption. “Allegations of corruption in state departments and local municipalities are rife and are being investigated.”

The conviction rate of government officials convicted of corruption-related offences in the Northern Cape was 83 percent above target.

“We intend to clamp down on these crimes with a very firm hand. We do meet regularly with the relevant units in the police investigating these serious allegations to provide guidance and to assist these investigators. He conceded, however, that the Province was under-resourced, both in terms of the police and prosecutors.

“We try and prioritise cases to see which ones can be investigated and prosecuted but resources are a national problem, with many posts being not filled due to the economic situation.”

Referring to organised crime, Botha stated that there were presently four racketeering cases on the court rolls, including the Intaka matter, which is on the high court roll, and three cases on the regional court rolls.

“The Asset Forfeiture Unit, whose role is to reclaim what has been wrongfully gained by criminals, has seen an amount of R63.3 million being paid to victims of crime, while R14 million was paid into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account in cases where there were no victims.”

Botha pointed out that the high incidence of murder and rape in the Province remained a serious concern. “In this regard, it is important to note that 26 sentences of life imprisonment were imposed over the past 15 months in the Northern Cape – four for murder, 21 for rape and one for robbery.

“The role of alcohol abuse in the majority of these cases is a matter of serious concern and needs to be addressed by a multidisciplinary approach involving all relevant state departments including Health, Social Development, Education, Safety and Liaison, the SAPS, as well as schools, churches and non-governmental organisations.

“Crime in the Province needs to be looked at holistically. Taking criminals to court and convicting them is equally as important as preventing crime by addressing the root causes of crime in our Province.

“Socio-economic issues which lead to crime in general, should collectively be addressed by the state, in the first place, but also by civil society. Only then will we be able to see a significant impact on the incidence of crime.”