Rough justice, World Cup style
TICKET-scalpers, mini-skirted Dutch blondes, a man who stole a duvet cover on a freezing night and a British man who accidentally wandered into the England team's dressing room. These are among the defendants in South Africa's special network of World Cup courts a unique system of rapid-fire justice that is generating controversy and headlines around the world. Swift sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment, mostly to foreigners, have been handed down by the special World Cup courts. Some of the trials are as short as 20 minutes. The courts run for 15 hours a day, in two shifts, with some 260 prosecutors assigned to the 56 courts. The judicial experiment has ignited a furor of reaction. Some observers are touting them as an efficient solution to South Africa's notoriously high crime rate. Others warn that the system is much too harsh, arbitrary and tilted in favour of the corporate interests of FIFA, the governing body for world soccer.
In the most controversial case, two Dutch women will appear in court on June 22, 2010 on charges of “ambush marketing.” They were arrested after 36 young blondes were spotted in the stands at a World Cup match, wearing the bright orange mini-dresses of a Dutch brewer, Bavaria. The brewer's logo was barely visible, but the women were accused of violating the monopoly of the official FIFA sponsors. They could face six months in prison.
In an equally bizarre case, the special courts have scheduled a trial on June 18, 2010 for a British fan who stumbled into the dressing room of the England soccer team while he was searching for a toilet. The fan, 32-year-old Pavlos Joseph, said a stadium steward had pointed him in the direction of a tunnel at Green Point stadium when he was seeking a toilet after a goalless draw between England and Algeria on June 18, 2010 in Cape Town. After wandering around the tunnel, apparently breaching three separate security points without anyone challenging him, he opened a door and found himself in the England team's dressing room.
Most of the other cases at the special courts are linked to petty crime against World Cup fans. In a trial that took fewer than 20 minutes, for example, a South African man was hit with a five-year jail sentence for stealing a cellphone from an Argentine fan.
Others are worried that the special courts are ignoring the legal rights of the defendants. They ask how a fair trial can be held in 20 minutes, and how a defendant can be sentenced to prison only three days after the crime.
There was also criticism from the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, who said it was “disproportionate” to arrest the two Dutch women and put them on trial for breaching the monopoly of a World Cup sponsor. Another issue is the cost. Most of the 1,500 officials at the special courts are sitting idle as they wait for cases to arrive. Only 25 cases have been heard by the courts so far, and one South African newspaper has estimated that each conviction is costing about $240,000 in court costs.
While the special courts are handing down harsh prison sentences to some people, the World Cup security system in general has been dangerously lax. Many fans and journalists are entering the World Cup stadiums without anyone checking their tickets or bags. When security guards and stewards went on strike, they were replaced by police who seemed to have no training in how to check tickets or bags.
Source: UN Wire.