Legal process kicks off for answers from the Ministry of Justice regarding promises made about Sexual Offences Courts
The Action Society legal team has sent a formal request in terms of Section 18(1) of PAIA, to the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, requesting specific information concerning Sexual Offences Courts. These courts were provided for in the Judicial Matters Amendment Act 8 of 2017 and section 55A of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act.
Sexual Offences Courts were established because of congested court rolls, leading to cases not receiving the attention it should, and not being handled with the urgency it deserves. It seems, however, according to ground-level complaints, that the problem has not been resolved because of promises made by the Department of Justice not being kept.
“After testing numbers, only five out of the 18 numbers listed on the Department of Justice’s website were in operation, which forced me to find contact numbers elsewhere. Courts are frustrated about broken or the lack of equipment, making it impossible to offer this specialised support to victims. Examples of frustrations these courts are dealing with include broken recording equipment resulting in postponement of cases,” said Rentia Mynhardt, spokesperson for Action Society.
Mynhardt uses the Mitchell’s Plain Sexual Offences Court as an example where ongoing technical problems exist since March. The result is that hundreds of sexual offence matters are postponed, and victims now have to wait longer to see justice.
“Some hybrid courts reported that victims and perpetrators need to sit next to each other in the isle waiting for the trial to commence, with no special entrances or emotional support.”
Action Society wants to know the following from the ministry in their PAIA application:
- A full list of courts currently in use as sexual offences courts.
- How many prosecutions have been tried in the specialised sexual offences courts?
- How many convictions have taken place in the specialised sexual offences courts?
- An indication of the budget allocated to these courts.
- How many magistrates and/or judges have been duly designated to preside over matters in the specialised sexual offences courts?
“No Sexual Offences Court can ever reverse the pain and damage done to victims, but when these courts are functioning as it was promised, specialised assistance can be given, the finalisation process of cases will be accelerated, and the rate of convictions will be improved,” Mynhardt concluded.