SA to set up more sexual offences courts

16 July 2014

The government will establish 12 more dedicated sexual offences courts in the 2014/15 financial year, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha told a media briefing ahead of his department’s budget vote in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday.

The plan, Masutha said, was to establish 106 sexual offences courts over a period of 10 years, as part of the country’s drive to combat crimes against women and children.

The concept of sexual offences courts was introduced in South Africa in 1993, and by the end of 2005 there were 74 sexual offences courts countrywide. The special courts were phased out in the years following because of budget constraints, but were reintroduced in August 2013. Since then, 22 such courts have been established.

“Through sexual offences courts, we are able to provide specialised victim-support services, improve the effectiveness of witnesses in the execution of their role in court, reduce the turnaround time in the finalisation of sexual offences matters, and improve the conviction rates,” Masutha said.

The courts feature specially trained officials, procedures and equipment to reduce the chance of secondary trauma for victims.

There is a proper screening process to identify cases that fall within the sexual offences category; a special room where victims will testify; a private waiting room for adult witnesses; and a private waiting room for child witnesses and victim support services.

The courts also include special equipment to enable victims to identify the accused from the testifying room when required to do so, as well as a designated court clerk and a court preparation programme for witnesses to prepare for court and to provide debriefing after they have testified.

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services’s chief operating officer, Khotso Dewee, said R100-million had been allocated for the running of the sexual offences courts.

On the issue of rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, Masutha said his department, together with various Chapter 9 institutions and civil society organisations, had launched the National LGBTI Programme in April, in order to guide the government’s response to the growing victimisation of LGBTI people in the country.