Press Release: The Criminal Justice System: Radical reform required to purge political interference

The disarray of South Africa’s criminal justice system is to a large degree the result of a conscious policy over the past decade, of attempts to fashion the leadership of various institutions to suit certain political or personal agendas.

These institutions include the National Prosecuting Authority (“NPA”), the South African Police Service (“SAPS”), SAPS’ Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (commonly known as “the Hawks”) and the Independent Police Investigation Directorate (“IPID”). 

There is an urgent need to guard against political office-bearers appointing, suspending or removing the heads of important institutions within the criminal justice system, at their discretion and with little effective oversight.  We cannot continue to rely solely on the judiciary to set aside unlawful political decisions.  Such a corrective mechanism is both slow and costly.  There is also a real risk that a heavy reliance on the courts could lead to ever increasing tension between the judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches of government.

There is therefore a need to adjust the appointment, suspension and removal procedures for these key positions.  What is required is an overall reform, with an external independent committee making recommendations upon which the relevant political office-holder is required to act.  This would enable a transparent and rational process, minimising the ability to implement purely partisan or personal agendas.  A recent example of how this can be done was the informal establishment of an independent external committee to provide a recommendation to the President on the appointment of the new National Director for Public Prosecutions.

Against this background, the HSF has published a paper setting out the appointment, suspension and removal procedures which are currently in force in respect of each major criminal justice institution and the need for an amended legislative framework.  This paper has been prepared for the purpose of focusing public attention and to encourage an informed public debate on a topic which is of major importance for South Africa.   

For the full text of this paper, click here.

Lee-Anne Germanos