Jun 2012

Safety and security Mob justice or plain injustice?

Mob justice or plain injustice?

Mthunzi Mhaga

Hardly a week passes without us hearing about a suspect killed by members of the community in so-called mob justice. The concept of mob justice has created an impression that there is an alternative form of justice other than that of the courts.

This is what I call justice: a criminal offence is committed; members of the community where this has happened apprehend the suspect and take him to the police. Police in turn present the case to the prosecutors with relevant and admissible evidence that lead to the suspect being convicted and an appropriate sentence imposed.

But with mob justice a suspect is apprehended by members of the community after an offence is committed; he is then set alight or stoned to death instead of being taken to the police. This is not justice, but a community seeking vengeance.


Effects of mob justice

Referring to the criminal conduct by community members as justice, undermines the efforts by the criminal justice system.

Victims of crime will never be satisfied until a person arrested for allegedly committing a particular crime is convicted and sent to jail. They care less about constitutional implications that come with the arrest of the suspect who still has to be tried in a court of law.


Lack of understanding

Because of the legacy of apartheid, people still distrust the courts. The real reasons behind mob injustice which requires urgent attention is that people lack a basic understanding of how the court system works. The criminal justice system, therefore, must bring about programmes to educate the public on why certain decisions are taken in court.

People believe that if they take suspects to the police they will be released on bail which to them bail is equal to dismissal. They don’t realise that bail is meant to secure the attendance of the accused person in court and that the amount he or she pays is for that purpose only and is, therefore, not a fine or dismissal.

It is important to note that prosecutors’ efforts to oppose bail are boosted by a thoroughly investigated case that has all the relevant and admissible evidence. Without these, their hands are tied and on many occasions they have had to concede to granting of bail.

Bail conditions are there to ensure that the accused, who is out on bail, does not intimidate witnesses so that they can testify freely in a subsequent trial. When an accused threatens witnesses, violating his or her bail conditions, the witness must report this to the nearest police station or the investigating officer. This can only happen if the police have established a good relationship with their witnesses.


Community involvement

The prosecutor’s position and role makes it difficult to establish this kind of a relationship because one can only interact with the witness when the matter comes for trial during con- sultations in preparation for trial. Therefore, a solid relationship between police, community policing forums and the prosecutors is crucial.

Crime fighting in South Africa is everyone’s responsibility, especially those who have insight into legal processes. Together we can be more proactive and work together to overcome the scourge of mob justice.

As a result there is a need to build trust and understanding of the courts system.


For a list of jurisdictions and the contact details of each DPP office, please visit our website at www.npa.gov.za. You may also e-mail us at communication@npa.gov.za if you have enquiries about the work of the NPA or call on: 012 845 6000.

Safety and Security
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