A story of trials and tribulations: The National Prosecuting Authority, 1998 – 2014

  • Martin Schönteich Open Society Justice Initiative
Keywords: National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, South Africa, politics, constitution


Established in 1998, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) immediately had to deal with escalating levels of serious crime. Through a variety of innovations, including prosecution-driven investigations popularised by the ‘Scorpions’, specialised career paths for prosecutors, a focus on performance measurement, and improved conditions of service, the NPA quickly became an employer of choice for a new generation of law graduates. Over the last 16 years, the NPA’s specialised units have performed well. However, the NPA’s performance at the level of the lower courts – where the vast majority of prosecutions occur – has been mixed. With the appointment of its sixth head or acting head in late 2013, the NPA has been burdened with inconsistent – and at times, poor and unsuitable – leadership. Relatedly, political interference and the politicisation of the NPA have seriously undermined a once promising institution, negatively affecting staff morale and performance and sapping public confidence in the NPA. The future of the NPA as an institution that exercises its functions without fear, favour or prejudice, as mandated by the Constitution, hangs in the balance.

Author Biography

Martin Schönteich, Open Society Justice Initiative
National Criminal Justice Reform Programme
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