Botswana criminals are getting away with murder ÔÇô literally, because the country’s justice system is overwhelmed and bursting at the seams, it has emerged. With criminal cases languishing for years, a plague of delays in the criminal justice system is undermining one of the central ideas of the justice system, the promise of a speedy trial. Lebotsang Mohutsiwa from the Attorney General Chambers has revealed that there are approximately 28,000 cases handled by 166 prosecutors at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP). On average, a prosecutor at DPP is expected to handle about 163 cases leaving them with very little time to prepare for trial. Mohutsiwa said shortage of staff has led to the increase of workload per staff member, and hence slower disposal rate of cases.
He added that “the situation has been accentuated by an increase in crime as well as the workload volume per prosecutor”. Mohutsiwa indicated that shortage of staff, as in any organisation, poses its challenges “Prosecutors are still doing more with less” he urged. Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the Botswana Police Service and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime have raised their concerns about the rate at which the DPP is losing cases in courts.
It has further emerged that that DCEC is currently investigating cases that involve high profile individuals while same are almost complete but the graft buster is proposing that the cases should be delayed until DPP has resolved its problems and can adequately present the cases in court. The situation is not helped by the fact that the Botswana Police Service is not equipped with the necessary skills and resources to effectively gather and secure evidence during investigations.
Although the expected turnaround time to dispose a case is 18 months, most cases drag for up to four years because of the system is overloaded. A source at DPP told Sunday Standard that “the nation would be shocked to learn that sometime our cases are thrown out of court because we are always late for trial due to lack of transport and at other times we never turn up for trial at all”. Botswana’s system currently offers a stark picture of what happens when an overwhelmed justice system cannot keep pace: old cases pile, prosecutions fail at an alarming rate, lives stall while waiting for court hearings and trust in the system and its ability to protect citizens evaporate. Mohutsiwa stated that there are no current plans to engage private law firms, as that option is constitutionally excluded. He concluded that there are retention strategies in place including Staff Empowerment measures that will remedy staff shortage.