As part of its efforts to bring perpetrators of domestic violence to book, the government is moving to strip public prosecutors of the power to drop serious cases at their discretion.
The department of justice and correctional services on Tuesday morning briefed parliament on three new Bills aimed at tightening laws around gender-based violence across the board.
Among them was the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, which proposes a number of legislative changes aimed at increasing the protection afforded to victims of domestic violence.
These include requiring prosecutors to get authorisation from above before withdrawing charges in domestic violence cases where grievous bodily harm or a “dangerous wound” has been inflicted; or where a weapon has been used.
The same would be needed for a decision not to prosecute the cases.
Luke Lamprecht, advocacy manager for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, said this could protect victims.
He said domestic violence cases were “messy” and that, in some instances, prosecutors dropped them solely because of this – adding the proposed Bill would allow for increased oversight.
But Zubeda Dangor, head of the National Shelter Movement, said often victims opened cases and then dropped them. She said while this was frustrating, their wishes had to be respected.
“He or she needs to have the choice at the end of the day. It’s very important the decision should be in his or her hands,” said Dangor.
“What you would be doing … is repeating the dynamic of the domestic violence itself,” he said, adding, however, that such a situation was “incredibly unlikely”.
The new Bill also proposes empowering peace officers to effect an arrest without a warrant in cases of domestic violence – and making such an arrest mandatory in cases involving physical violence.
In addition, it proposes placing a legal duty on “all with knowledge that an act of domestic violence has been perpetrated” to report as much to the police or social workers – and making non-reporting a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.