The nation is sick and tired of repeat offenders, who make bail only to commit further crimes in direct violation of set conditions. Just as tedious and sickening to the nation these violations have been, so are they bitterly frustrating to the Police, victims and their families, who are failed by the criminals’ means to delay and avoid prosecution.
Each day, via Btv and other media, Batswana witness violent criminals being paraded after capture, only for the same viewing audience to learn that the brazen, unrepentant and smug scoundrels are granted further bail. Just yesterday, a mob of suspects in violent robberies was shown on Btv, with the report noting that more than half of them were already on bail for other crimes, with others having two bails pending. Recently, two notorious armed robbers were nabbed in Block 7, only for Batswana to learn that they were both already out on multiple ‘bails’.
All these criminals have already vowed to apply for further bail because, as their lawyers note, being suspected of a crime is not a violation of previously granted bail conditions.
The criminal justice system and its adversarial make-up, when they work perfectly, are supposed to ensure justice and equity for both defendants and the public good. The scales of justice, when they work perfectly, are supposed to be balanced in such a way that they are tipped only by the evidence led, the counter-arguments given and the mitigation.
However, more and more, it is becoming clear that the adversarial system appears to favour defendants over prosecutors, particularly in the initial stages of a case when the highly contentious issue of bail appears. By principle, local law adheres to the presumption of innocence for suspects, which places the burden of proof on the accuser, who in criminal cases is the State.
While this globally-accepted principle is prudent in protecting the rights of citizens, in Botswana the threshold for securing bail is set so low that it prioritises the rights of suspects over those of the vulnerable public, or victims of their alleged crimes. For instance, as long as a defendant with multiple cases before court continues to honour their mention appearances, they may be eligible for bail when they are arrested for another case. While considerations for bail include attendance at trial, nature of charges, severity of possible punishment, possibility of absconding and public interest, it appears the increasingly sophisticated suspects and their powerful lawyers are no match for the underfunded and often amateurish prosecutors.
The end result is that the meagre resources of our Police Service – already staffed by generally demoralised members – are kept chasing after habitual offenders who regularly turn into fugitives, or become involved in fresh cases.
Members of the public, who should act as witnesses, are also discouraged from coming forward as they see suspects picked up today and braggingly roaming the streets tomorrow with apparent impunity. We once again plead with Justice Minister, Shaw Kgathi and our legislators, to speed up amendment of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to tighten the award of bail conditions, as well as the scenarios under which these are said to be violated.
If the Police Service has stepped up to the plate to arrest and investigate criminals then it is time more is done for the prosecution to do better to match these valiant efforts to see to efficient delivery of justice for the victims if not for the vulnerable public.
“Batswana are worried about the levels of crime committed by people who have been granted bail by the courts.”
–Shaw Kgathi, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security