Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
Photo by Kotie Geldenhuys
There is no doubt that the successful prosecution of an accused person depends not only strongly on evidence, but also on a good working relationship between the investigating officer and the prosecutor, which will contribute to building a strong case. If an investigator has the confidence to liaise regularly with the prosecutor during the investigation process, the chances of addressing any issues before the case goes to court improve significantly.
When a crime is committed, the police must determine who was responsible so that the criminal can be prosecuted and brought to justice. The investigation process begins the moment when a crime is reported and only ends after a suspect has been convicted or discharged by a court of law. The successful completion of this process is a mammoth task which requires cooperation between various role-players, such as investigating officers and prosecutors.
The cornerstone of the criminal justice system rests on the relationship between investigating officers, courts and prosecutors of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA). This relationship is vital to ensuring that critical information regarding the investigation is timeously communicated between the various role-players in the investigation process. The mutual respect between these role-players fosters communication and assists in the trial and pre-trial processes. In addition, investigating officers and prosecutors are the most visible members of any criminal investigation team (Becker and Dutelle, 2013).
Investigating officers have one of the most important roles to play in the prosecution process, but sometimes they do not fulfil their responsibilities. Nkashe (2015) found that, occasionally, the prosecution part of the process is kept apart from the investigation part, in order for prosecutors to be able to assess the adequacy of evidence dispassionately and objectively. This separation of roles means that investigating officers do not consult with prosecutors and/or are not available to discuss important issues regarding any case. Becker and Dutelle (2013) stress that this becomes problematic, since investigators need to be able to work as team players with prosecutors and need to be able to communicate and testify objectively and professionally.
The prosecutor is an appointed or elected member of the practising bar who is responsible for bringing the State's case against the accused. The prosecutor's primary function is to assist the court in arriving at a fair verdict. It is vital that s/he must act impartially and in good faith.
According to Bugliosi (2000), a prosecutor must have certain characteristics to be able to master the art of prosecution, which include the following:
- credibility - the most important attribute of a good prosecutor;
- self-sufficiency - including the ability to manage stress and pressure in an extremely stressful environment;
- diligence; and
- the ability to convict.
The NPA derives its mandate from section 179 of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996. Section 179(2) empowers the prosecuting authority to institute criminal proceedings on behalf of the State and to carry out any necessary function incidental to instituting criminal proceedings (NPA, 2011). According to the NPA’s Prosecuting Policy (2013), the prosecutor has the discretion to make decisions that affect the criminal justice process. This discretion can be exercised at specific stages of the process and includes making the following decisions:
- whether or not to institute criminal proceedings against an accused;
- whether or not to withdraw charges or stop a prosecution;
- whether or not to oppose an application for bail or release of an accused who is in custody following arrest;
- the crimes with which to charge an accused and the court in which the trial should proceed;
- whether or not to accept a plea of guilt tendered by an accused;
- which evidence to present during the trial;..