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Unreasonable delays in trials
09 December 2019  | Puleng Valentine Tladi | Views: 843

The accused is warned to appear at Court at 08:30 and if he/she fails to appear a warrant to arrest will be issued. 

We as the defense are told not to double book ourselves; however, we wait hours before our matter is called. There are usually 17 matters placed on the roll; four of which are partly heard matters and the remaining are all new trial matters. The magistrate usually arrives at 9 or 10 am. You go to Court not knowing if your matter is ever going to proceed because it has been postponed since September 2019 and you are already in December 2019. Witnesses are called left and right and the prosecutor excuses one after the other, informing them that the trial is not going to proceed because the matter is still new and therefore the matter has to be postponed. As you look at your watch it is past eleven and you have been waiting since past 8 for your matter to proceed. You end up sitting there from half past eight till after two in the afternoon, only to be told that your matter is not going proceed. 

Your client is upset, you are upset too, your precious time is wasted because your day was not productive at all and your client's time and money is gone to waste as they had to take the entire day off from work, only for the matter not to proceed. 

What will the court do under the above circumstances? Our answer is in section 342A of Act 51 of 1977, which states that an enquiry will be held to investigate the unreasonable delays in trials by considering the following factors: the duration of the delay, the reasons advanced for the delay, whether any person  can be blamed, the prejudice to accused and witnesses, the seriousness of the crime, actual or potential prejudice caused to the state or the defence, the effect of the delay on the administration of justice, the effect on the interests of the public or the victims if prosecution is stopped or discontinued, any other factor which the Court may take in consideration. 

What will the outcome be if the Court finds that the delay was unreasonable? The Court will make any of the following orders: refuse postponement, grant a postponement subject to certain conditions which the court deems fit, struck the matter off the roll where the accused has not pleaded to the charge, and where the accused has not pleaded to the charge and the prosecution or defence is unable to proceed continue as though the state or the defence have closed its case, order the state to pay the accused for the wasted costs incurred by the accused as a result of an unreasonable delay caused by the state, or if the accused or his/her legal representative caused the delay either one of the two can pay the state for the wasted costs incurred, that the matter be referred to the appropriate authority for administration investigation and possible disciplinary hearing be conducted against the culprit. 

I now know that justice delay is justice denied and that no one is above the law and it is time that we act accordingly and avoid any unnecessary delays.