Law commission recommends state help for crime victims

2011-07-04 14:38

The SA Law Reform Commission has called for law changes that will allow victims of violent crime to make limited financial claims against the state, in a report that was kept under wraps by the justice ministry for seven years, then quietly released in May.

But the justice department has sent the long-awaited document back to the commission and called for further deliberation.

“It is not in the interest of anyone to present a half-baked product,” justice department spokesman Tlali Tlali said today.

Law Reform Commission chairwoman Judge Yvonne Mokgoro said in a statement released with the report on May 19, that the establishment of a proper victims’ compensation fund was not financially viable as it would cost an estimated R4.7 billion a year.

However, she said the commission proposed legislation that would considerably improve state support to crime victims, and would at least allow for financial compensation where the state could not provide the needed services.

“The cost implications for a compensation fund, paying full compensation, calculated for the year 1998, and limited in respect of a category of offences which included murder, rape, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, indecent assault and aggravated robbery, was R4.7bn.

“The result clearly underlined the huge cost implications which should be considered and led the commission to conclude that such a fund is not a viable option in the current financial climate.”

The Victims of Crime Bill, contained in the 447-page report, proposes instead that the state set up a permanent office, plus regional branch offices, “to take care of the needs of victims of crime on a permanent basis”.

It further provides for the “creation of a limited fund to support the development, improvement and provision of services” such as trauma counselling and medical treatment

It recommends that “in exceptional circumstances a victim may apply for compensation where there is an absence of appropriate services”.

The report found that South Africans run a higher statistical risk of falling victim to violent crime than even residents of countries with similar crime rates, adding to the cost implications of a fund.

Police Minister Nathi Mtethwa has deplored the “uniquely random and violent character” of crime here.

In 2008, there were 2.1 million serious crimes reported in South Africa of which nearly a third were associated with violence.

It is unclear why the report was held back for seven years.

The Sowetan newspaper quoted the law reform commission’s secretary, Michael Palumbo, as saying that in 2004, the then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla refused to release the report on the grounds that certain aspects needed further investigation.

The commission today declined to comment.

According to the justice department, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe presented the report to Cabinet in 2010, and Cabinet decided that certain aspects of it required further research.

Tlali said the department would comment on the content of the report only once it had been resubmitted to the Cabinet and was deemed to be complete.

“We would like to clarify that government will comment comprehensively on the report once it has been tabled before Cabinet and Cabinet has satisfied itself that all aspects that had been identified for further interrogation and research have been attended to.”

Tlali said reports of this nature played a critical role in government decision-making and any undertaking given by the administration “must be informed by a thorough process of investigation and research”.

“An announcement will be made at an appropriate time,” he added.

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