Justice for Breakfast Roundtable Discussions

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On 24 July 2014, the Wits Justice Project, together with Wits School of Governance, hosted the Justice for Breakfast roundtable discussion. These discussions have been running since late 2012. They aim to foster open, face-to-face interactions in an uncontrolled environment, in an effort to understand some of the administrative issues in the criminal justice system as well as finding possible solutions to those issues.

The focus of the breakfast discussion was to look and reflect at the current state of the criminal justice system and challenges moving forward. The breakfast discussions focused on issues arising from the two-day Criminal Justice Lecture series preceding it. Leading the discussion, Sean Tait from the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, started off by highlighting some of the reflections that emerged from the two-day lecture, which included, but were not limited to:

  • The cost of the criminal justice system:  R100b/year budget. Is this budget sustainable over a long period of time? Where can cost cuts be made? And where can we invest?
  • Urban environment and Safety: through the Integrated Urban Development Framework, how can we integrate and work together as stakeholders, civil community, and government (local, regional, and national)?
  • Policing: Data shows that out of 1.7 million South Africans arrested, only 300 000 cases were successfully prosecuted by the NPA.  There is still the culture of impunity in the police force. Moving forward, how will trust between the SAPS and the community be built? What criteria are used to recruit new police officers? What is the role of community police forums? What is the importance of the National Development Plan? Mr Tait expressed that these are some of the questions to which the New Police Act needs to pay close attention.


Discussion Points

How has poverty influenced developmental agenda and policy-making? It is no accident that the majority of citizens behind bars are poor, young, black males

What has been done to transform the ever-increasing police culture of torture and corruption?

Have there been any studies done looking at budget expenditure to address health-related issues in correctional facilities? What can we do to ensure that offenders come out rehabilitated and not worse than when they entered prison?

What is being done about the 30% of the prison population in remand, with no rehabilitation means at their disposal?

How do we balance the human rights of the offender and those of the victim?

In closing, the roundtable concluded that, moving forward, a closer look at the systematic approach of the rule of law, culture of impunity, and restoring trust between the police and the community is needed.

An official outcome document from the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable will soon be made available.


Reflections on the Justice for Breakfast series by Anton Harber[1]


Journalists, lawyers and social justice campaigners often work in atmospheres of adversarialism. Journalists see themselves as watchdogs, trained to be sceptical of those with power, to question those in authority and to be vigilant in exposing untruths. Lawyers, of course, work in a court system based on the contestation of versions, facts and viewpoints. Campaigners usually work through journalists and lawyers to bring disruption and dispute. On the other side, those in government often feel themselves under siege, faced by this barrage of adversarialism, their hands often tied behind their backs because of the nature of their positions in large bureaucracies.

So what happens when you bring these groupings together over coffee and croissants? What occurs when you gather in a safe space and say we are all interested in improving the justice system, though we do it in different ways and from different angles and from behind different barricades? For one thing, you discover quite quickly that the adversarial system can produce a lot of noise, but not always successful communication. You learn all sorts of important things, such as why there is such a problem of missing court transcripts and what is being done to fix it; or that there are important experiments in using paralegals in all corners of the country; or why there are still people in prison because they could not pay bail of just a few hundred rand. You are forced out of your silo, out of your comfort zone. You are forced to see different perspectives of the same problem. You may even see a bigger picture, the bird’s-eye view of a problem you were only seeing from your own bunker. All the better if you do this over a good bacon and eggs.

The Justice for Breakfast events were notable for bringing together a diversity of different institutions and individuals from all parts of the criminal justice system, both inside and outside of government. We could exchange perspectives, make linkages, build alliances, share information … the full range of value which falls under that loose and over-used term, networking. Such an event opens possibilities for partnerships, collaboration and sharing, reminding each one of us that we cannot take on the challenge of a complex justice system without each other, that just because we are sometimes adversaries in a tug-of-war does not lessen the fact that we need each other at the other end of the rope, that if one side lets go, the other will fall down.

There was a deliberate plan to record the discussion and outline outcomes, particularly those that pointed to concrete steps forward. The system is still contested and the solutions still fought over, so after breakfast everyone goes back to their desks, or barricades, or keyboards, to take up their previous positions. Hopefully, though, they do so with a little more knowledge and awareness which may inform their activities, some connections and linkages which can be put to use over time, and the nourishment  – both physical and mental – of a good breakfast.

[1] from the Afterward in the Anthology of the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable Debates 2012 and 2013


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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