Court staff call for witness fees for victims

2013-09-12 00:00

COURT officials have expressed outrage that “poor” child rape victims are being discriminated against by a Department of Justice (DOJ) policy not to pay witness fees to victims who are required at court for interviews ahead of their trial date.

A week ago a hungry five-year-old rape victim from Himeville fell asleep on the steps of the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court after she and her mother waited for most of the day for a lift from the investigating officer, who had been summoned to another emergency. Court staff were appalled that the child and her mother were unable to claim the bus fare home, as well as a meagre food allowance.

Court staff, who wished to remain anonymous as they are barred from talking to the media, said there are many occasions where they, or police officers, dip into their own pockets to make sure that victims get home safely or are able to buy food. “It’s a question of humanity. We can’t afford to do this regularly and it is government’s responsibility,” said a source.

DOJ spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed in response to e-mailed questions that the matter had been brought to the DOJ’s attention by a senior public prosecutor.

He, however, confirmed that there were no provisions in the department’s policies for the payment of witness fees to people coming to court for interview purposes.

Mhaga said only witnesses who have been subpoenaed to court to testify qualify to be paid witness fees.

Prosecutors believe the policy creates an injustice and amounts to “secondary abuse” of victims.

They said that if justice is to be done in cases involving serious crimes, especially child rape survivors, the victims must be adequately prepared ahead of their testimony at trial.

Prosecutors are expected to obey a parliamentary directive to “fast track” cases involving vulnerable groups such as child rape victims, and must interview them as soon as possible.

Pietermaritzburg court officials have lodged a complaint with the KZN director of public prosecutions and it is understood that an investigation is under way.

NPA spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson said she was unable to comment, and referred The Witness to the DOJ.

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