DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Lillian Siyuni has proposed an amendment to the law to introduce penalties for people with a tendency of recanting or withdrawing court cases after being bribed by suspects.
In an interview, Siyuni lamented that the tendency by victims to withdraw abruptly was terribly affecting her work due to the huge waste of time spent on cases that ended up closed.
“Sometimes what we experience is that when we call witnesses in pre-trial, they will say what’s on the statement. But when you take the matter to court, they totally change their statement. I have experienced a case where this family lost their child, their child died. This is a family in Kabwe, so they went and reported the matter to the police and the police went and exhumed the body of this girl. But when the matter went to court a few months later, I think those times it used to take long to take the matter to court, so I started interrogating these people (the family members) and they expressed total ignorance of the matter. They started asking me: ‘whose daughter died? Which one is that? Our daughter didn’t die.’ They totally refused, everyone refused! So, you can see that each time we take a matter to court, we are taking it on the belief that there is evidence, but then some people just go and change their statements in court like the way that family I have told you about did. So, we do take cases to court, but sometimes people don’t just say what they have said in the statement to us,” Siyuni said.
Asked why people were recanting and withdrawing cases, Siyuni suspected it was due to poverty.
“You know how people are, like for the example I gave you about the family in Kabwe…later on, I got to know from their lawyer that they had been paid off cattle. So, it was the life of a child for cattle. So, they were given cattle by the defence and so it was settled. There were no threats, but they settled it that way. But in other cases, the reason people change their statement is actually because of love. Most of the withdrawn cases we have recorded are gender-based cases and, mostly, it’s an issue of love or economics. In some cases, people get worried that if the breadwinner goes to court and they are tried and jailed, then the whole family will suffer. We’ve even had cases where a child is defiled in a family and then the family just sits down and make sure that the child disappears, so this child is sent to the village where they cannot be accessed. So, when that happens, we have no choice, but to discontinue or withdraw the case,” she said.
Siyuni, however, insisted that it would be better if a penalty was introduced for wasting the state’s time.
“We are thinking that maybe we should introduce a penalty such that if I am a woman and I have been beaten by my husband and then I go and report to the police and the police investigate and then I withdraw later, we are thinking that maybe people should start paying us. So, we are thinking that maybe we should ensure that once you go and withdraw your statement, you are going to pay the State, and the State includes police. So, maybe we should start quantifying now to say, ‘nobody should be wasting time.’ Instead of us looking at other matters, we are busy looking at your matter, which just ends up being withdrawn,” said Siyuni.
“But this is just a suggestion anyway because it goes back to law reforms again. It can only be implemented once the law is changed to allow for people to be paying for wasting time (the DPP’s time). The law, currently, doesn’t allow for that to happen, so it’s just a suggestion. But we really feel that could help a lot, for GBV cases especially because some women, when they come to withdraw cases, you can even wonder. Someone who nearly died comes back to say, ‘my husband can’t do this.’ So, it is our view that perhaps we should consider that if people come back to withdraw a case after reporting, they should be charged so that we stop people from withdrawing cases anyhow, especially that in some cases their lives are at risk.”