DoCS’ Watching Briefs – working with SAPS to improve justice

Dan Plato, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

The Department of Community Safety’s Court Watching Briefs initiative, a first in South Africa, is helping to ensure that police inefficiencies hampering court procedures, with regards to convictions and prosecutions, is sufficiently addressed by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and contributes toward a better quality of policing in the province.

Between October 2013 and March 2014 alone, the Watching Briefs unit has monitored hundreds of cases and identified 71 which were removed from the court roll due to inefficiencies from the SAPS. These cases predominantly relate to drug related crimes but also include murder, attempted murder, robbery with aggravated circumstances and rape.

Of the identified cases, 44% (31) were reinstated on the court roll and 39% (28) resulted in disciplinary action being instituted against the responsible police officers.

Premier Helen Zille, together with the Department of Community Safety will be discussing the successes of the Watching Briefs today as part of the Crime, Policing and Criminal Justice Wits School of Governance and the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC’s) justice debate at UWC.

Inefficiencies identified by the unit vary in severity, from small mistakes to systemic problems which are brought to the police’s attention for their consideration and improvement. Some of these include failures:

  • By Investigating Officers to finalise the investigation within a reasonable time frame;
  • To have the police docket at court;
  • To have the forensic drug reports timeously available at court;
  • Of the Investigating Officer to subpoena witnesses to attend court; and
  • Of the State to have the blood alcohol reports available within a reasonable time period.

When the Watching Briefs unit identify inefficiencies, a comprehensive report is compiled and referred to the Provincial Police Commissioner for his attention and action. The report is also forwarded to the Portfolio Committee on Community Safety.

By working Better Together, the SAPS, Western Cape Government through the Watching Briefs and the Provincial Parliament through the Standing Committee are addressing identified problems and assisting in rebuilding the trust between communities and the police.

The reinstatement of cases on the court roll not only shows the effectiveness of the unit and ensures a better quality of police service in the Western Cape but also awards victims, their families and communities at large the opportunity to have perpetrators face their full day in court.

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