'Less resourced and less costly Sexual Offences Courts model' prompts concern

Organisations in the gender-based violence sector say they are shocked that the Department of Justice intends to investigate the possibility of reducing resources provided to sexual offences courts.

This announcement was made during the Deputy Minister of Justice’s keynote address at the launch of the Thembalethu Sexual Offences Court in George‚ on 15 May 2017‚ the organisations said in a statement on Thursday.

Sexual Offences Courts were scrapped from the South African criminal justice system‚ around 2008. However‚ due to civil society demand and escalating sexual violence against women and children‚ the specialised courts were reintroduced by an Act of parliament signed by the President in January 2014.

Group joins court bid to overturn 20-year time limit for sexual assault prosecutionThe Teddy Bear Foundation‚ represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University‚ has been admitted to intervene in a case as amicus curiae or ‘friend of the court’ in a case involving a sexual offender for offences allegedly committed decades ago. 

However‚ the groups said‚ the Deputy Minister on Wednesday announced that the “department finalised its partnership with Unicef to develop a less resourced and less costly Sexual Offences Courts Model”.

Kathleen Dey‚ national director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust‚ said‚ “We were deeply disappointed to learn about this move. Those activists and civil society organisations working in the sector were not consulted on the aims and intentions behind this partnership‚ and it is certainly not in keeping with the recommendations of the Task Team or what we have been promised in respect of the roll-out of these courts. The recommended resources are all there for very specific reasons‚ directly linked to the needs of victims and improved conviction rates.”

“Any plan to reduce the resources to Sexual Offences Courts fundamentally erodes and undermines the whole idea of bringing them back in the first place. A decision was made to reintroduce these courts based on the appropriate model recommended in the Task Team report‚ civil society backed the idea‚ and law was passed for this to happen. It would be unacceptable for the state to now go half-way on implementation. They knew what it would cost when the decision was made‚” said Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights Gender Equality Programme.

Alison Tilley‚ head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre‚ said‚ “The courts are certainly under pressure as a result of the increasing levels of crime‚ and especially crime against women and children. Outrage about the level of violence continues to grow. The idea that courts will not use the most effective system we have for convictions and reducing secondary trauma even before it has actually been implemented is startling indeed.”





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