While we all want to live our lives as peacefully as possible, an encounter with crime in South Africa is, unfortunately, very likely. This can be a very traumatic and stressful experience, and often people feel powerless, but this is where the criminal justice system comes into play.

The purpose of the law is not only to protect citizens but to empower South Africans and give them peace of mind when it comes to getting justice for crimes committed against them.

Using the criminal procedure, citizens have access to law enforcement and the justice system so that criminals can be identified and, ultimately, brought to justice.

Although, not everyone knows just how to get this procedure started, and what to expect subsequently.

How to open a criminal case in South Africa

STEP 1: Report the incident to the police station so that a docket can be opened.
STEP 2: The crime will then be investigated by an Investigating Officer.
STEP 3: A docket will be sent to the court, and a prosecutor will then decide if a further investigation is necessary. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decides whether to prosecute or not. The NPA is likely not to proceed if they think the case isn’t strong enough, i.e. there is insufficient evidence.
STEP 4: If the NPA does decide to go ahead with the prosecution, the case is then sent to court for indictment.

The prosecutor appointed will bring the case against the accused, and you won’t need a lawyer to take your matter to court. But, the law and legal procedures can be confusing, so it is a good idea to have a caring lawyer you can talk to and who can offer expert legal advice and assistance.

What is bail, and how does it work?

Bail is the temporary release of an accused person awaiting trial, sometimes on condition that a sum of money is paid to guarantee their appearance in court.

In court, the accused (the person who is on trial for the crime) may apply to be released on bail. This means that the accused will be released from custody after payment of a certain amount that is determined by the court. The accused will not be held by the police for the duration of the trial.

The trial.

At the beginning of the trial, the prosecutor states the charges against the accused, who will then plead to the charge(s). If the accused pleads not guilty, the case must proceed to trial. The case may be postponed to obtain further evidence or to get legal assistance for the accused.

The basic proceedings of a trial in South Africa are as follows: the prosecution will call witnesses to the stand who will testify and hopefully support the case and prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty. The prosecution will also present supporting evidence and call upon various professionals (psychologists, doctors etc.) to give expert opinions or verify facts.  After that the accused or their attorney will also call witnesses to testify or produce evidence and support their quest for innocence.

After both sides have been heard, the presiding officer must decide whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused is found guilty, the accused will be sentenced by the presiding officer. The court may consider other sentencing options besides imprisonment or fines. If sentenced to prison, the accused may be released on parole under certain circumstances.

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While this is a basic introduction and covers the essence of criminal court cases in South Africa, it is always essential to have a caring legal adviser who can give legal advice that will guide you through the process and help you sleep easy at night. LAW FOR ALL has affordable policy options that suit any budget. Join now.