Calls for shorter criminal trials in the Western Cape

Miscah Fakier’s family at the Wynberg Magistrates Court. pic Genevieve Serra

Miscah Fakier’s family at the Wynberg Magistrates Court. pic Genevieve Serra

Published May 4, 2024


Cape Town - Crime activists and court watchers together with the families of victims are calling for shorter trials as court rolls see cases running for more than a decade.

This month, the family of 44-year-old Miscah Fakier of Hout Bay remained hopeful that justice will finally be served after six years, when the men accused of murdering her will face judgment at the Wynberg Regional Court.

Fakier’s murder trial is one of several running for years on court rolls across the province, seeing various delays due to the backlog of evidence, absenteeism of judicial staff, prisoners and the accused, the changing of the defence counsel and for other administrative reasons.

Last month, the Western Cape Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety’s Court Watching Briefs unit reported that in the third quarter, October 2023 to December 2023, it monitored 265 cases at 10 courts, which has jurisdiction over 35 SAPS stations across the provinces – and that all 265 cases were struck off the court roll due to systemic inefficiencies in the police.

During a parliamentary question on the DNA backlog last year, it was confirmed DNA case entries stood at 55 891 and there was a backlog of 636.

On April 26, Elridge du Plessis together with his relative Denzel du Plessis, made a brief appearance in court where they heard judgment would take place on May 24.

Magistrate Karel Meyer said he would be giving a detailed verdict based on previous case studies.

Fakier’s case made headlines in January 2018 when she was doused with petrol and set alight by her attackers.

Mishkaah Fakier was murdered in 2018. file image

The State is set on proving Du Plessis premeditated the murder after he had allegedly accused Fakier of stealing drugs from him. Fakier, who was also beaten during the ordeal, was hospitalised where she managed to name her attackers before she died.

Fakier’s relative, Fadwah Vardien, who has attended court hearings since the start of the case said they were secondary victims because of the delay in justice.

“For six years we have been sitting on that bench, every single time someone testified something new, we wept, we cried, we had to console one another,” she said.

“It felt like we were also on trial.

“We were never given the reasons why this case was delayed for such a long time, there were lawyers being absent or the accused applying for bail.

“How can a trial run for six years? Now finally the verdict is here and we want justice. Her eldest son was 11 years old at the time and now he is 17 and he wants answers.”

National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Eric Ntabazalila said du Plessis’ case was delayed due to the change of legal representation: “The State and Defence cases are closed. The case got delayed as the accused changed legal representatives.

“One of the accused applied to reopen his case and was granted. The case is now set for judgement on 24 May 2024 at Wynberg Magistrates Court B.”

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services was also contacted, but did not respond.

Linda Jones, a court watch activist and member of the Mitchells Plain United Residents Association, is calling for shorter trials. She cites the 2009 case of Cytheria Rex, now running for 15 years at the Blue Downs Regional Court.

The case has seen more than 110 postponements, with the two accused dying during the trial period.

Murdered Cytheria Rex. file image

Another case is that of Corrine Jackson, who has been on trial for eight years at the Mitchells Plain Regional Court for allegedly murdering her girlfriend.

Donovan Titus’s case has been running for nine years: he stands accused of murdering his wife, Candice Titus.

“We are frustrated by the length of cases at our courthouse, for example the matter of Donovan Titus which is running for nine years,” Jones said.

“Often a witness is not available, and there are so many delays due to the accused changing their attorneys.

“It’s a Western Cape issue even at the Cape High Court, we see a backlog, and it is frustrating to the victim’s families as well as those who are assisting the victims.

“We have cases between seven and eight years, such as the Corrine Jackson matter which is running for eight years. The family cannot get closure. The grandmother of the victim said she hoped she would live to see justice, and she didn’t sadly.

“We need to ask these matters to the Magistrates Commission, whoever is in power, to ensure that these cases run smoothly and that there are speedy trials, because the law says the criminal is entitled to a speedy trial.”

Terence Grant, a writer and activist in Cape Town, said shorter and lengthier trials both had pros and cons.

“If we are to gain the upper-hand against corruption, we have to ensure corrupt officials and corrupt employees are convicted and removed from their well-paid positions, as soon as possible,” he stated in letter to the editor.

“Unfortunately, if trials become significantly shorter, defence attorneys – who charge by the hour – are likely to earn far less than they currently do.

“This will make it more difficult for prosecutors, magistrates and judges to convince the government that they could /would be earning considerably more money, if they resigned and went to work in the private sector. The government therefore needs to give them a substantial salary increase, if it wants to retain their services.”

Siya Monakali of IIitha Labantu, which advocates for the rights of women and children, said they were deeply concerned by the high number of gender-based violence (GBV) cases remaining on the court roll for years.

“We strongly believe that cases should be treated with the same level of urgency, seriousness and sensitivity they deserve,” he said.

“In 2022, the president signed into law legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end GBV, with a victimcentred focus on combating this dehumanising pandemic. One would have assumed that with the enactment of these amendments to GBV legislation we’d see a greater sense of expediency in cases already on the court roll.”

Weekend Argus