It has been almost three years since it became law that statutory sexual offences courts (section 55A sexual offences courts) must be established and resourced. However, to date, not a single one of these courts exists.
The delay stems from an amendment to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 (Act Nr 32 of 2007), giving Minister Ronald Lamola jurisdiction to designate where these courts should be established. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo (acting at the time) already sent the minister a letter of concurrence on 30 March 2022.
“Survivors and victims of sexual offences face not only the secondary trauma of an attack when they report the crime to the police, but also have to suffer even further trauma when they have to deal with a court system not set up to deal with their specific situations. It is a terrible indictment against the Department of Justice,” said Kaylynn Palm, Action Centre coordinator at Action Society. “Victims of sexual offences should not suffer because of bureaucratic red tape and failure of the minister to do his work.”
Through a PAIA request from Action Society, the department justifies this failure by saying there are 106 MATTSO (Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters) Courts which function as courts dealing with sexual offences. However, there are, in fact, only 102 functioning MATTSO courts since March 2020. Regional courts also hear these cases.
“Apart from the MATTSO courts being far away for victims, not all of these courts function as prescribed in the regulations relating to Sexual Offences Courts due to lack of resources,” said Palm. “And there is a dire shortage of trained and experienced staff at regional courts to handle these cases correctly.”
The department also indicated that the budget to establish 80 sexual offences courts is R50 000 in the financial year 2022/23. However, the MATTSO stated in 2013 that the basic physical assets for the Sexual Offences Courts Model are costed at R87,241 per court, whilst human capacity will cost R2,854,113 plus operational costs of R713,528 per court.
“How on earth do you set up or convert 80 specialised courts for R50 000? ” Palm wanted to know.
In addition, the department confirmed that there were almost 5 000 cases related to sexual offences pending between 1 April 2021 to 28 February 2022. During the same time, more than 2 700 new cases were registered. Add to that a pending caseload of 16 781 DNA backlog cases, of which more than 6 000 are specifically related to sexual offences, and it is clear why many survivors of sexual crimes decide not to pursue a legal course.
“Action Society places the responsibility for the failure to afford justice to victims of sexual violence and sending a message to the perpetrators of these crimes that they will not face justice at the feet of Minister Lamola,” said Palm. “We will be investigating the state of courts dealing with sexual offences and applying pressure to get section 55A sexual offences courts up and running as possible.”