Criminal Justice Policy and Human Rights in the New South Africa

  • Martin Schonteich


The post-1994 transition in South Africa brought about a restructuring of the criminal justice system, the abolition of a number of laws and operating procedures, and the formulation of a range of new ones. Since the mid-1990s levels of recorded crime, especially violent crime, have increased significantly in South Africa. One reason for the increase in crime levels has been the government's inability to improve the operational effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Many crimes are not reported to the police. Of those that are recorded, less than 10% result in a conviction. Instead of focusing on fixing a range of operational and managerial weaknesses in the criminal justice system, South African policy makers have responded to rising crime levels by adding to the statute book. Reasons include consistently high levels of crime, public pressure and a general perception that the country's Constitution is overly protective of the rights 'of criminals' at the expense of law abiding citizens. While some operational improvements are being undertaken on the criminal justice system, these are mainly long-term initiatives which do little to reduce crime in the short-term. Tougher laws have gone hand in hand with robust police action, whereby a few hundred crime suspects die in police custody every year and hundreds more are killed through police action. There has also been a notable shift away from long-term policy making and crime prevention towards tough and visible law enforcement. Tough legislation and law enforcement policies are likely to fail in their aims if they are not properly implemented and used by the personnel of the criminal justice system. Many forms of crime, especially serious premeditated crime of the kind committed by organised crime syndicates, can be effectively combated. What is needed are fewer laws backed up by a well-run and adequately resourced criminal justice system staffed by trained and motivated personnel.
Dec 1, 2003
How to Cite
SCHONTEICH, Martin. Criminal Justice Policy and Human Rights in the New South Africa. QUT Law Review, [S.l.], v. 3, n. 2, dec. 2003. ISSN 2201-7275. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 01 feb. 2021. doi:
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