The results of a recent survey of magistrates' perceptions of prosecutors and other magistrates are concerning for the South African justice system, and highlight the need for urgent reform.
The survey was conducted in 2022 by NGO Magistrates Matter, in conjunction with the University of Cape Town's Democratic Governance and Rights Unit. The rationale behind analysing magistrates' opinions was that magistrates have actual direct day-to-day experience, and can provide reliable perceptions of prosecutors.
- 61% of magistrates were of the view that prosecutors are respectful towards court users. However, one in three magistrates disagreed with this statement;
- 48% agreed with the notion that prosecutors ensure that justice is done but 42% of magistrates disagreed with this statement, and the remaining magistrates did not hold any opinion in this regard (these are less than ideal statistics);
- 20% believed that prosecutors are corrupt, while 45% were of the view that prosecutors are not corrupt. The remaining 35% said they did not know;
- 63% of magistrates indicated that some/most/all prosecutors are corrupt, whereas only 2% indicated that there is no prosecutor that is corrupt (this too is a concerning statistic);
- 48% thought that some/most/all magistrates were corrupt, while 6% had the view that there is no magistrate that is corrupt (this too is a less than ideal statistic);
- A staggering 83% of magistrates indicated that some/most/all police were corrupt, with 27% indicating that most or all of the police members were corrupt The study found that there was no magistrate that shared a view that there is no police member that is not corrupt (this is a very concerning statistic);
- 11% of the magistrates stated that they have been, or know a magistrate who has been offered a bribe in the last two years;
- A third of magistrates were of the view that prosecutors are biased. The survey also found a correlation between perceptions of prosecutor corruption and perception of bias in that magistrates who viewed prosecutors to be biased are significantly more likely to view them as being corrupt, and vice versa;
- 5% were of the view that prosecutors are competent, whereas a majority of 59% of magistrates disagreed with this statement. Furthermore, the survey found that compared to older and experienced magistrates, educated magistrates, who are often younger, were more likely to think that prosecutors are competent;
- 81% of magistrates indicated that prosecutors request postponements too easily, and there was a correlation between this perception and the perception of incompetence and corruption;
- There was an additional study of responses from 24% of
magistrates that were from Gauteng:
- There were slight differences between the responses from Gauteng magistrates and the magistrates from other provinces;
- However, the perception that prosecutors are corrupt was more than 50% higher among Gauteng magistrates than in the rest of the country.
It is disappointing to learn that more than half of magistrates in this study believe that prosecutors are not ensuring that justice is being done, that they are corrupt, or that they are incompetent. There was an alarming 80% of magistrates who indicated that prosecutors request postponements too easily. Although these results may not be a full reflection of the services of prosecutors, nor do they represent the views of all magistrates in South Africa. We hope that those in senior positions in the criminal justice system study these findings and take steps to address points of concern.
These results underscore the need for South Africa's criminal justice system to address these issues and work to restore trust and confidence in the important role that prosecutors play in ensuring the swift delivery of justice. By doing so, the system can work more effectively to uphold the rights of all South Africans . It will also be seen as remedial action implemented by South Africa and can in years to come be used to persuade the Financial Action Task Force to remove South Africa from the greylist.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.