Technology overhaul for SA’s criminal justice system

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 20 May 2022

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DJCD) plans to invest a huge chunk of its 2022/2023 budget in the Integrated Justice System.

This will see the merger of several IT systems of five governmental entities, in efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system.

This is according to DJCD minister Ronald Lamola, presenting his ministry’s 2022/2023 budget vote during a virtual plenary session of the National Assembly this week.

The minister outlined plans for the DJCD’s budget allocation for the financial year 2022/23, which amounts to R22.4 billion − an increase of approximately R515 million from the previous year, he stated.

Lamola pointed out his department has taken a clear step to re-invest in the justice system, noting the budget allocation will help accelerate the extensive work already under way to recover from the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, while delivering a more efficient and modernised justice system.

Bringing it all together

He outlined plans to merge the IT systems of the Department of Home Affairs, South African Police Service, National Prosecuting Authority, Department of Correctional Services and Department of Social Development of South Africa, as part of the Integrated Justice System.

This will enable seamless communication and data-sharing between the entities, said the minister.

The Integrated Justice System aims to augment the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system by increasing the probability of successful investigation, prosecution, punishment for priority crimes and, ultimately, rehabilitation of offenders.

“We have to prioritise the budgeting process to enable us to respond to the need to digitise our infrastructure in the entire criminal justice system. The Integrated Justice System aims to integrate the processes of all these departments to enable an interactive platform to strengthen our criminal justice system.

“Digitising these platforms will bring efficiency and also access to our court-related data. We are confident that with the budget we have allocated, we will be able to implement it,” commented Lamola.

SA is rated among the countries with the highest crime rate in the world, with notably high rates of assaults, rape, homicides and other violent crimes.

Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola.
Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola.

The Integrated Justice System forms part of government’s plan to modernise justice services through the use of digital capabilities, which requires a supporting, responsive and stable underlying IT infrastructure.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the duplication of services and programmes at all levels, while creating joint strategic planning.

The Integrated Justice System will see four key digital initiatives over the 2022/23 period, added Lamola. These include the Criminal Justice System e-Documents and Forms; Court Audio Visual Solution for case participants (phase two); e-Scheduling and Messaging for Courts; and integrated Bail Payment Processing and Release Management.

“The Criminal Justice System e-Documents and Forms is an initiative that focuses on reviewing processes to eliminate forms that are made redundant by the electronic exchange of information between Criminal Justice System departments as well as the digitisation of all documents and certificates that remain necessary.

“The Court Audio Visual Solution for case participants will be a video-conferencing and video-ID verification facility that will be used for witness/victim interviews and testimony in cases where direct contact is not feasible or very expensive, as well as in cases where expert witnesses are required in court,” he explained.

The e-Scheduling and Messaging for Courts is an information management and sharing system that allows the tracking of court dates, court process start times, and the arrival and checking-in of witnesses, victims, the accused, defence lawyers and prosecutors.

The Integrated Bail Payment Processing and Release Management solution will enable lawyers/family members of the accused to "pay bail anywhere".

“Modernising justice services through the use of digital capabilities requires a supporting, responsive and stable underlying IT infrastructure. The department's currently ageing IT infrastructure does not bode well in this regard.

“The department endeavours to upgrade and ensure the continuous upkeep of its IT infrastructure, as this will not only impact the delivery of existing services enabled by technology but also its modernisation programme.”

Tech to tackle GBV

Lamola further provided a synopsis of how the department has used technology as an arsenal in the war against gender-based violence (GBV), as part of the new anti-GBV Bills introduced to help strengthen the fight against the scourge.

In February, president Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law three anti-GBV Bills: the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill and Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.

Some of the anti-GBV initiatives include:

  • An online web portal for domestic violence applications for protection orders.
  • The introduction of the online web portal and SMS notification system for the National Register on Sexual Offences services (NRSO).
  • Allowing the giving of evidence in GBV-related court proceedings through an audio or virtual/visual link, with the assistance of intermediaries in the matter.

“It adds more pain to victims of gender-based violence when their perpetrators roam the streets shortly after police arrest. The SMS NRSO on Sexual Offences services will be made accessible to the NRSO applicants in this financial year.

“Through the implementation of the NRSO, the department intends to curb the exposure of vulnerable persons to paedophiles and serial sex offenders and also to prevent the act of sex offending in the country,” he concluded.