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A reply to a DA Parliamentary question has revealed that there have been a total of 64 incidents of escapes, and 41 attempted escapes, from South African courtrooms since the 2006/7 financial year. This equates to almost one escape per month, and one attempted escape every month and a half.
The province with the highest escapes is Gauteng, with 19, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 11, and Mpumalanga and Free State with 9 each.
The Minister advises of several steps that have been taken to improve the security, such as securing entry and exit points, prisoner routes and prisoner drop-off areas at specifically identified courts, and installing X-ray machines and metal detectors. Notwithstanding these, however, yet another escape occurred on 20 November from the Somerset West Magistrates’ Court, where 5 accused escaped from the holding cells. There have been 2 further stabbings this financial year, despite metal detectors being present at least one of the courts involved. It is clear that the measures that have been taken are not working.
Such incidents are the result of either gross incompetence or collusion. The Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, and Police are jointly responsible for ensuring that the necessary measures are taken to prevent court room security breaches. One such step would be to institute the same strict security clearance procedures followed by the Department of Correctional Services to vet their staff. It is vital that the reasons for these escapes be identified and addressed. I shall be submitting follow-up questions to the Minister of Police to ascertain what measures have been put in place to identify those involved in these escapes, and how they have been dealt with, as well as what steps have been taken to prevent this from recurring.
It is, quite simply, unacceptable that accused persons are allowed to escape from the very facilities where justice is to be meted out, and where security should be at the highest levels. It also places innocent people at risk.