Organisations advocating against gender-based violence have expressed shock about apparent moves by the justice department to reduce resources provided to sexual offences courts.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said in a statement Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery’s announcement earlier this week that the department intended investigating the possibility of reducing resources to sexual offences courts was cause for concern.
Jeffery said in his keynote address at the launch of the Thembalethu Sexual Offences Court in George earlier this week the department had finalised its partnership with UNICEF “to develop a less resourced and less costly sexual offences courts model”.
LHR said sexual offences courts were scrapped in 2008 despite their success but were reintroduced by an Act of parliament in 2014 due to civil society demand and escalating sexual violence against women and children.
The organisation said the Ministerial Advisory Task team had thoroughly investigated the viability of this reintroduction and found that sexual offences courts could be reintroduced if this was done in a truly meaningful and resourced way.
Activists lauded the task team’s 2013 report as real hope for victims, who were routinely traumatised by the criminal justice system, leading to poor conviction rates.
The task team made detailed recommendations- including cost estimates – for the courts.
Kathleen Dey, national director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, said they 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,” she said.
Alison Tilley of the Open Democracy Advice Centre said South Africa’s courts were already 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,” she said.