LRC to make submissions on intermediaries

2014-04-15 13:59
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Johannesburg - The Legal Resource Centre (LRC) will be making oral submissions to the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday in a sexual assault case against businessman Stewart Hewitt.

The submissions relate to the discretionary use of intermediaries, said LRC spokesperson Claire Martens in a statement.

"The focus is only on the constitutionality of Section 170A(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act."

Martens said once the judge has ruled on matter, the parties involved can decide whether to approach the Constitutional Court.

The Act states that an intermediary can only be used if someone is under the age of 18.

Hewitt is appealing against his conviction for sexually assaulting a minor, and a review of the proceedings.

The girl, who cannot be named, was assaulted by Hewitt from the age of 8 until 12. She laid charges against him when she was 13, but the police docket got lost on two separate occasions.

Statements were taken for a third time when she was 17.

When testifying, she had turned 18 two weeks before appearing in court.

The prosecutor made an application for an intermediary to be appointed in terms of the Act.

"The magistrate believed that [the victim] would experience undue mental stress and trauma if the intermediary was not appointed," said Martens.

"For that reason, an intermediary was appointed which went unopposed by Hewitt's legal team. He has subsequently engaged a new legal team."

Conviction

Hewitt was convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He is currently out on bail while his appeal process is finalised.

Hewitt's appeal and review is based on the use of the intermediary, arguing that due to the girl's age at the time of her testimony, using an intermediary was an irregularity.

The LRC said Hewitt previously instituted a special review in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban, but lost the case.

"In the current case, the LRC has been admitted as an interested party to the proceedings on behalf of [the victim]," said Martens.

"While victims in criminal cases are not normally party to appeals, [the victim's] interest is clear. Should the appeal succeed and the matter be sent back to the Durban Regional Court, she would be forced to testify again, this time without the protection afforded by an intermediary."

The LRC said it submitted psychological reports to the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on the phenomenon of secondary victimisation by the court system against survivors of sexual abuse and the experience of cross examination.

"Many victims of sexual assault are in need of protection, some of whom are not under the age 18," said Martens.

"The LRC's submissions argue that the vulnerability of the victim, rather than their age, is the relevant factor when determining whether to appoint an intermediary."

- SAPA

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime  |  child abuse
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