Strengthening Prosecutorial Accountability in South Africa

This paper argues that independent and dedicated oversight of the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is crucial if the organisation is to succeed in its mission and regain the public trust it has lost over the past few years. The NPA’s tremendous authority, its indispensable role in the criminal justice process and its essential function in upholding the rule of law underscore the need for the NPA to be accountable to the people it serves. In practical terms this demands accountability of a standard and quality that enhances public confidence in the NPA while helping the organisation improve its performance.The paper reviews a number of prosecutorial accountability mechanisms by drawing on real-world examples such as prosecution service inspectorates, independent prosecutorial complaints assessor mechanisms and prosecutorial review commissions. These mechanisms are assessed and their applicability to the South African context is critically explored. The paper gives careful consideration to the importance of prosecutorial independence in order to protect the constitutional mandate that the NPA must exercise its function ‘without fear, favour or prejudice’. Prosecutorial independence and accountability do not need to be in conflict with one another; provided an appropriate balance between them is found, both principles can be protected.