17 January 2005
South Africa’s new Victims’ Charter, approved by the Cabinet at its last meeting for 2004, consolidates the current legal framework on the rights of victims of crime and the services to be provided to them.
The Charter aims to ensure that victims remain central to the criminal justice process in South Africa, to eliminate “secondary victimisation” from this process, to clarify the standards of service to be accorded victims by the criminal justice system – and to provide for recourse when these standards are not met.
The complementary Minimum Standards on Service for Victims of Crime aims to explain the rights contained in the Victims’ Charter further, and to help make these rights a reality – by giving detailed information to enable victims to exercise their rights and service providers to uphold them.
Victims of crime: your rights
The Charter states that, if you are a victim of crime, you have the following rights, in terms of the law and the Constitution, in your contact with the authorities – including the police, court officials, and members of any government body dealing with or providing a service to you.
The right to be treated with fairness and respect for dignity and privacy
This includes the right to be attended to promptly and courteously, and treated with respect for your dignity and privacy.
As part of this, the authorities are to take steps to minimise inconvenience to you – among other things, by conducting interviews with you in your language of choice and in private, if necessary.
The right to offer information during the criminal investigation and trial
The authorities must ensure that any contribution that you wish to make to an investigation, prosecution or parole hearing is heard and taken into account in the making of decisions. This means you have the right to:
- Participate (if necessary and where possible) by attending the bail hearing, trial, sentencing proceedings or parole board hearing.
- Make a further statement to the police if you realise that your first statement is incomplete.
- Make a statement to the court, or give evidence during the sentencing proceedings, where appropriate, to bring the impact of the crime to the court’s attention.
- Make a written application to the chairperson of the parole board to attend the parole hearing and submit a written input.
The right to receive information
You have the right to be informed of:
- Your rights and how to exercise them – with explanations in your own language of anything you do not understand.
- All relevant services available to you.
You can request:
- Information regarding court dates, witness fees and the witness protection programme.
- Notification of proceedings which you may attend.
- To be informed of the status of the case, whether or not the offender has been arrested, charged, granted bail, indicted, convicted or sentenced.
- Reasons for a decision that has been taken in your case on whether to prosecute or not.
- The prosecutor to notify your employer of any proceedings which necessitate your absence from work.
The right to protection
You have the right to be free from intimidation, harassment, tampering, bribery, corruption and abuse.
With this right comes a responsibility: anyone who witnesses such threats must report them to the police or senior state prosecutor.
As part of this right:
- In certain circumstances, the court may prohibit the publication of any information (including your identity), or may order that the trial be held behind closed doors.
- The police will, if you comply with certain requirements, apply for you to be placed in a witness protection programme.
- You can request Correctional Services to inform you if the offender has escaped or been transferred.
The right to assistance
You have the right to request assistance and, where relevant, have access to available social, health and counselling services, as well as legal assistance which is responsive to your needs. As part of this:
- The police will assist you by explaining police procedures, informing you of your rights, and making the appropriate referral to other relevant service providers.
- The office manager or head of office at the court will provide for the services of an interpreter.
- The prosecutor will ensure that special measures are employed in relation to sexual offences, domestic violence and child support or maintenance matters, and that, where available, such cases are heard in specialised courts.
- If you have special needs, the authorities will take all reasonable steps to accommodate you and ensure that you are treated in a sensitive manner.
The right to compensation
You have the right to compensation for loss of or damage to property suffered as a result of a crime.
“Compensation” means an amount of money that a criminal court awards a victim who has suffered loss or damage to property, including money, as a result of a crime.
As part of this:
- You can request to be present at court on the date of sentencing of the accused and request the prosecutor to apply to court for a compensation order.
- The prosecutor will inform you if a compensation order has been granted, explain its contents and how to enforce it. The clerk of the court will assist you in enforcing it.
- You can institute a civil action against the accused if a criminal court does not grant a compensation order. (This usually happens where the damages are not easily quantifiable in financial terms, for example, in the case pain and suffering.)
The right to restitution
You have the right to restitution in cases where goods or property have been unlawfully damaged or taken from you.
“Restitution” refers to cases where the court, after conviction, orders the accused to return or repair the property or goods.
The prosecutor will inform you what restitution involves and the clerk of the court will assist you in enforcing this right.
If you have any complaints about the service you’re getting, or if your rights are not being observed, you should contact the government department or service provider concerned.
If you’re not happy with the way in which your complaint is handled, you can also contact:
- The Public Protector
- The Human Rights Commission
- The Commission on Gender Equality
- The Independent Complaints Directorate
- The Health Professions Council of SA
- Metropolitan Police offices
- A lawyer of your own choice and at your own expense
For more information on any issue regarding the Victims’ Charter, you can contact the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s gender directorate at the following numbers:
- Tel: (012) 315-1670
- Toll-free: 0800 011 022
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org