CGE lauds sexual offences courts

2013-08-07 08:39
Jeff Radebe (File, Sapa)

Jeff Radebe (File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - Sexual offences courts will go a long way in providing much needed protection to a large number of victims and survivors of sexual crimes, the Commission for Gender Equality said on Tuesday.

It applauded Justice Minister Jeff Radebe's announcement that at least 22 sexual offences courts would open this year, in a revival of the system of dedicated courts to fight rape.

"This will inevitably ensure that issues of rape, sexual harassment, and other related sexual crimes are addressed by specialised courts, henceforth people with specialised skills, in helping society eradicating the scourge of sexual crimes," the CGE said in a statement.

Making his announcement in Pretoria on Tuesday, Radebe said another 35 sexual offences courts would be set up within the next three years.

"We have seen a rise [in] sexual violence against women and children and we cannot remain unmoved as government, but we can take steps to ensure that all those perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be brought to book and this is one of the ways of dealing with it."

World Cup courts proved successful

He said the government had not abandoned the policy of running sexual offences courts, but had buckled under logistical problems, including the refusal of magistrates to permanently serve in the courts and the lack of a dedicated budget.

The CGE said the introduction of special courts during the 2010 FIFA World Cup had proved successful, and that it sought the same commitment and response by the justice system when it came to sexual offenders.

"As the CGE, we will monitor the effectiveness of the courts and also ensure the roll-out of all the courts throughout the country is done, as promised."

The first sexual offences court was established in Wynberg, in Cape Town in 1993. By late 2005, there were 74 such courts countrywide. Currently only nine remain operational, according to figures provided by Radebe.

"Even though these courts recorded considerable success, there were a number of challenges that led to their demise.

"The government never took the decision to close down the courts," he said, adding that there was the irony of the courts shutting down while internationally they had acquired best practice status.

‘Work too traumatic in the long term’

The state was considering rotating magistrates and prosecutors who worked in sexual offences, in response to complaints that the work was too traumatic in the long term, Radebe said.

"We believe that the interactions that we have had, myself included, in meetings with the heads of courts... I believe that there is a broad understanding that all of us, including presiding officers, we have to be dedicated to this kind of work."

The justice department said some R20m had been set aside to refurbish the courts, but that more would be needed.

Last year, Radebe appointed a task team to investigate reviving and strengthening the courts, amid accusations by rights activists that the government lacked the political will to fight sexual violence.

The task team's report "clearly determines that our current court system requires special courts to ensure an adequate response to the special needs of the sexual offence victims", he said.

The team cited the lack of enabling legislation as another reason why the courts failed to function.

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery said this would be addressed by the sexual offences act amendment bill, which allows the minister to designate sexual offences courts, and should be passed speedily.
Read more on:    commission for gender equality  |  jeff radebe  |  judiciary

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