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Number of incomplete dossiers NPA returns for further investigation points to serious problems in detective service

The deep-rooted problems in the South African Police Service’s detective division are paralysing the criminal justice system.

It was gleaned from the reply to a parliamentary question by Dr Pieter Groenewald, leader of the FF Plus, to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, that more than 1,8 million criminal cases could not be tried and finalised since 2018/19 as a result of incomplete dossiers.

These dossiers were sent back to the relevant detectives with specific directions for further investigation as prosecutors know that cases cannot be tried successfully with incomplete dossiers.

In addition to this, the National Police Commissioner, Gen. Fanie Masemola, revealed at the end of last year to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police that the Police Service has lost a total of 8 400 detectives since 2016.

The number of detectives plummeted from 26 000 in 2016/17 to a mere 17 000 in October 2023. To make matters worse, many of the detectives lost by the Service are seasoned and experienced police members who go on pension or are headhunted by the private sector.

Moreover, the resources at detectives’ disposal are getting scarcer every year with more than a quarter of the vehicles assigned to detectives in certain provinces being unusable.

These figures paint the bigger picture of the extensive and serious crisis affecting the country’s police and detective service. It has a direct detrimental impact on the entire criminal justice system.

The extent to which crime is out of control is clearly demonstrated by the country’s murder rate. Six years ago, it was 34 per 100 000 of the population. It increased to 36,5 in 2022, and it now stands at 45, the second highest in the world.

The general crime rate also continues to climb and South Africa is fast earning a reputation as one of the most crime-affected countries in the world.

Under such circumstances, a country’s detective service simply cannot be allowed to deteriorate as South Africa’s has over the past few years. More qualified detectives should be appointed urgently, and efforts should be made to recruit experienced members to return to the force.

The reply supplied by the Minister merely outlines the processes being followed, which makes it clear that he does not realise, or want to acknowledge, the seriousness of the matter.

He referred to the “Norms and Standards for the Performance of Judicial Functions”, published by the Chief Justice in 2024, which stipulates, among other things, that accused persons have a “right to a speedy trial” and that dossiers should, therefore, be complete.

Under the current circumstances, quite the opposite is happening, though. With more than 1,8 million dossiers returned for further investigation since 2018 there is no possibility of a “speedy trial”.

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