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Asking nicely…is a bad position to be in

According to current victims’ services policies in South Africa, victims of crime generally have the right to request information about the status of their case, but do not have the automatic right to receive that information without asking for it. So we currently place the burden on the victim to fill in a form, pay a fee, and generally ask nicely, before they hear what the criminal justice system is up to. Of course, it goes on after that … parole of the convicted person, release back into the community. Surely it is hard enough to get your life back together after being a victim of a serious crime, without having to leave messages for detectives with hapless sounding receptionists?

It isn’t that no one has thought of it — for example, the Minimum Standards on Services for Victims of Crime for Implementing the [Victim’s Charter] in South Africa says an accused may appeal against a conviction and the sentence imposed by the court. If an appeal is filed, you may ask the prosecutor in the original case, or the state advocate dealing with the appeal, to be kept informed of further developments in the case, for example, the date set for the appeal hearing, whether the accused has been granted bail, and the result of the appeal.

But telling you can ask for information, in a document no one ever sees, doesn’t really leave the ordinary victim in a position to make those requests. Would it be better to put the responsibility on the prosecutor to tell you this? Or even just give you a little pamphlet explaining this? Follow the debate on