DoCS’ Watching Briefs – working with SAPS to fix systemic failures

By Dan Plato, Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

DoCS’ Watching Briefs – working with SAPS to fix systemic failures:

I have today written to the Acting Provincial Police Commissioner, Major General Thembisile Patekile, requesting him to urgently address the systemic failures of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the Western Cape as identified by my department’s Watching Briefs Unit. These failures are preventing alleged criminals from having their day in court, reducing successful conviction rates and undermining the criminal justice system.

The Department of Community Safety’s Court Watching Briefs initiative, a first in South Africa, has identified 144 cases in its pilot phase last year where serious inefficiencies or failures by SAPS resulted in these cases initially being struck off the court roll. Through the intervention of the Watching Briefs team, who quickly identified a number of shortcomings, brought these to the attention of the SAPS and because of the swift and decisive actions taken by SAPS management, most of these cases were thankfully placed back on the court roll. The trials will hopefully be finalised soon resulting in justice to be served and the criminals being prosecuted.

The inefficiencies or systemic failures identified include:

  • Failure by the Investigating Officer to finalise the investigation within a reasonable time – 74 cases;
  • Failure to have the police docket at court – 54 cases;
  • Failure of the Investigating Officer to subpoena witnesses to attend court – 15 cases; and
  • Failure to comply with the instructions of the prosecutor – 1 case.

Without Watching Briefs programme, the 74 cases, in 5 courts where the Investigating Officer failed to finalise the investigation, would have been removed from the court rolls with no justice to the victims and their families affected by the crimes.

Of these 74 cases where the investigation was not finalised within a reasonable time, 12 cases related to murder, 5 to attempted murder, 15 to possession of firearms without a license, 13 to robbery and 4 to rape.

The 54 cases where the police docket was not timeously at court included 1 murder, 2 attempted murders, 4 possession of firearms cases, 10 robbery cases as well as 1 attempted rape case.

I welcome the strong action by the SAPS management who took disciplinary steps against the guilty officers, as this demonstrates that there is no room in the Police Service for sloppy or uncaring policing. I have also escalated some of the systemic failures identified to the National Minister through the MINMEC report and remain confident that they will act to address the failures highlighted in order to prevent any additional injustices in future. Acting Provincial Commissioner, Major General Patekile, will need to implement strong preventative measures in order to prevent a re-occurrence of these systemic problems.

During the 2015/2016 financial year, the Watching Briefs programme has become a permanent function of the Department of Community Safety and will be extended to at least 25 courts in the province with a particular focus on gang related cases and those involving serious and violent crimes.


This will allow the Department of Community Safety to work even better with the SAPS to identify areas of improvement enabling the SAPS to provide a better quality of safety service delivery to everyone in the Western Cape.

I invite tertiary institutions and/or law firms to engage with the Department of Community Safety to find ways in replicating the success of the Watching Briefs where they operate towards improved safety service delivery for all people in the province.

Everyone is entitled, by our Constitution, to equal treatment which remains a critical element of a fair and just society. The work of the Watching Briefs unit helps to ensure that this equality is not undone by poor safety service delivery while awarding victims, their families and communities at large the opportunity to have perpetrators face their  day in court and account for their criminal behaviour.