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The purpose of the criminal procedure is to ensure the security and safety of the public through effective investigation of crimes so that criminals can be identified and brought to justice.

First, the crime is reported to the police station. Thereafter the police open a docket and the crime is investigated by the investigating officer. Next, the docket is sent to Court and the prosecutor must make a decision as to whether further investigation is necessary. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decides whether to prosecute or not. If the NPA decides not to prosecute, it is most likely because the case is not strong enough, for example if there is too little evidence available. If the NPA decides that the accused will be prosecuted, the case is sent to Court for indictment.

The prosecutor may decide on diversion of the case from an alternative decision. Diversion is a system for first-time offenders charged with petty crimes. They are given a chance to do community service, pay for damages resulting from the crime, undergo treatment for alcohol or drug problems, and/or counselling for antisocial or mentally unstable behaviour. When the case is heard in Court, the accused may apply to be released on bail. The effect of bail is that an accused who is in custody is released from custody upon payment of the amount of money determined for his or her bail or the furnishing of a guarantee to pay it. He/she must then appear at the place and on the date and at the stipulated time determined for his or her trial, or to which the proceedings relating to the offense of which the accused is released on bail. The Constitution provides for the following: “Everyone who is arrested for allegedly committing an offence has the right to be released from detention if the interests of justice permit, subject to reasonable conditions.”

At the start of a trial, the prosecutor states the charges laid against the accused. The accused then pleads to the charge, which might be guilty or not guilty. If the accused pleads not guilty, the case must proceed to trial. The matter may be postponed to obtain further evidence or to get a lawyer for the accused.

On the day of the trial the prosecutor will first call witnesses to testify so that it can be proved that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Thereafter the accused or his/her attorney will also call witnesses to testify or produce evidence. After both sides have been heard, the presiding officer must make a decision as to whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused is found guilty, the accused will be sentenced by the presiding officer. The Court may consider other sentencing options besides imprisonment or fines. If sentenced to prison, the accused may be released on parole under certain circumstances.

Reference list:

  • Joubert, 2001, Criminal Procedure Handbook.
  • The National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa, 2008, Understanding the Criminal Justice System.
  •  The Constitution of South Africa, 1996.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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