Justice Department on target with establishment of sexual offences courts

August 25th, 2015

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, officially opened the Schweizer-Reneke Sexual Offences Court in the North West province on 22 July.

The opening of this sexual offences court brings the total number of courts that have been upgraded into sexual offences courts to six.

According to Minister Masutha, the court will have specially trained officials and equipment that will assist to reduce any chance of secondary trauma for victims of sexual violence.

In 2013/14 the Justice Department committed itself to establishing 57 sexual offences courts and, to thereafter, continue to gradually and progressively establish additional sexual offences courts.

On 23 August 2013, the first sexual offences court was opened in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. Twelve sexual offences courts are targeted for completion during this financial year.

At the launch of the Schweizer-Reneke Sexual Offences Court, Minister Masutha said that hardly a week after the launch of the first sexual offences court in Butterworth, a serial rapist who had been terrorising the community for over four years was convicted and sentenced to 25 life terms for the murders and rape of over 23 elderly women and children co­llectively. He added that this clearly demonstrates the efficiency of the courts and aggressive stance adopted by police, prosecutors and the judiciary.

Minister Masutha also said the Justice Department has enacted various measures to deal with all forms of gender based violence including sexual offences. ‘Some of the progressive legislations include the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998; Older Persons Act 13 of 2006, Children’s Act 38 of 2005, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 and the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013. In addition to these acts, President Zuma assented the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Act 43 of 2013 in January 2014 to enable me, in consultation with the Chief Justice and the judiciary, to designate certain courts for the purposes of dealing with sexual offences and related matters,’ he said.

In conclusion Minister Masutha shared the Justice Department’s success in respect of sexual violence cases on the Implementation of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 for the previous financial year. He said the overall sexual offences verdict indicates improved conviction rates. ‘Of the 6 165 cases finalised with a verdict, 3 887 (63%) cases were finalised with a guilty verdict. As compared to the previous financial year, the conviction rate has increased from 59,6% to 63%. This rise can be attributed to the re-introduction of the sexual offences courts, which provides specialised services on sexual abuse cases,’ he said.

Clarity on new Amendment Act

Meanwhile the Justice Department’s Deputy Minister, John Jeffery wrote an article on the new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 (the Act), which has been reported on broadly by the media. Deputy Minister Jeffery wrote the article due to many misconceptions about the Act. In the article he explains that the new legislation does not lower the age of consent to sexual acts to 12 years, the age of consent is still 16 years and has not changed.

Deputy Minister Jeffery further explained that the main aim of ss 15 and 16 of the Act is to protect children, between the ages of 12 and 16 years, from sexual exploitation by adults.  However, the new legislation also ensures that children between the ages of 12 and 16 who are involved in consensual sexual acts with each other, will no longer be criminally prosecuted for it.

The article reads: ‘Before the amendments came into operation, children who consensually were involved in sexual activities with each other could be investigated, criminally charged and prosecuted for such activities. Sexual activities could range from kissing and hugging to intercourse – and everything in between. This was set out in sections 15 and 16 of the Act.’

Deputy Minister Jeffery said the law needed to be changed because the provisions of ss 15 and 16 were challenged in the Constitutional Court and found to be unconstitutional.

According to the article, in Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children and Another v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Another 2014 (2) SA 168 (CC) the court found that ss 15 and 16 of the Act infringed an adolescent’s right to human dignity and privacy and were not in the best interests of the child, therefore, ss 15 and 16 were found to be unconstitutional insofar as they criminalise consensual sexual conduct between adolescents.

The evidence before the court stated that South African children reach physiological sexual maturity during adole­scence, between the ages of 12 and 16 years. They undergo various changes in their transition to adulthood and during adolescence, children ordinarily engage in some form of sexual activity, ranging from hugging and kissing to intercourse.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele NDip Journ (DUT) BTech Journ (TUT) is the news editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (Sep) DR 14.