Part 4: The Future of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa
It’s 2019, and in May the country voted in its sixth democratic election. Like in 1993, Doc Martens and plaid are in fashion. Ministers and Presidents have changed again, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) getting the youngest Minister in President Ramaphosa’s Cabinet – Ronald Lamola.
On a cold winter’s day this June, I returned to Wynberg Court, where the sexual offences project began all those years ago. The trees in the park across the road were shedding leaves and some were already bare. The street outside was busy with taxis and people walking quickly, keeping warm. Many people who come to this court will take public transport, leaving home in the dark, and arriving at this stern building hoping for justice. 557 sexual offences cases were placed on the court roll here.[i] Mathematically, that means that the court would need to hear two sexual offences cases a day if it worked every single week of the year.
Sexual Offences Courts in 2018
In 2018, the DOJ reported an “all-time high” conviction rate of 72.7% in sexual offences cases. They said they were reviewing the law to make sure it provided for the designation of courts to sit as sexual offences courts. Draft Regulations were also produced to ensure that these courts could provide standardised services to everyone who used them. That year, 50 108 sexual offences were reported to the police – the second lowest figure in a decade. The “all-time high” conviction rate that the DOJ reported reflected just 5 004 convictions – roughly ten percent of cases reported to the police. Only 6 878 cases were resolved with a verdict at all.
In Part 3 of our story, you’ll remember that in 2013 the MATTSO Report had identified 57 courts for immediate upgrading. But that year, just 19 courts were upgraded. Over the next few years a few new sexual offences courts were added each year. The reporting on just how many of these new Sexual Offences Courts there were was initially confusing at times, but the Table below provides an overall idea based on Department of Justice reports.
Table: Department of Justice Annual Reports on the number of Sexual Offences Courts re-established
|Annual Report Comment on Sexual Offences Courts||Number of SOCs reported on the website as established in that year[ii]||Estimated Total Sexual Offences Courts|
|2012/13||“47 regional courts were upgraded and equipped with modern technology to operate as dedicated sexual offences courts”[iii]||None||47|
|2013/14||This year was a bit confusing – three different figures were reported. But the figure most often reported was 19
· “9 model courts and a further 10 courts are now operational”[iv]
· “An additional 12 courts were also finalised that were designated as sexual offences courts.”[v]
· “In the previous financial year we achieved our target of upgrading 22 sexual offences courts.”[vi]
|2014/15||“14 more court rooms were designated bringing the total number of court rooms to 33”[vii]||14||33|
|2015/16||“14 court rooms were designated across the country to bring the total number of court rooms to 47”[viii]||14||47|
|2016/17||“During the year under review, 11 sexual offences courts were established to bring the total number of sexual offences courts to 58”[ix]||10||57 or 58|
|2017/18||“An additional 17 court rooms were adapted in line with the sexual offences model and this brought the number of court rooms adapted to 75.”[x]||17||74 or 75|
In their 2018 Annual Report, the DOJ said that they were continuing with the roll out of sexual offences courts (SOCs) and were placing emphasis on “ensuring that these courts continue to operate optimally in line with specifications.”[xi] Although their Annual Report said 75, according to the list of sexual offences courts on their website, as of July 2018, there were 74 sexual offences courtrooms at 65 courts across the country. The majority (43) of these court rooms were in ‘hybrid’ sexual offences courts.
Hybrid sexual offences courts are defined as regional courts dedicated to the adjudication of sexual offences cases in any specified area. It is a court that is established to give priority to sexual offences cases, but it can also deal with other cases. In other words, it’s not what the MATTSO model wanted.
The majority of all sexual offences courtrooms were located in urban or semi-urban areas.
|Area of court||Percent|
In 2013, the DOJ committed to introducing 106 sexual offences courts over ten years.[xii] That means by 2023 they need to establish a further 32 courts, and it would likely need more time and money to upgrade them all to be compliant with the 2013 MATTSO model.
This means that it’s important for ordinary people, like you reading this article, to keep an eye on the progress and make sure we don’t lose out on these important courts.
At the Rape Survivor Justice Campaign we believe that these courts are the key to restoring faith in the criminal justice system and they should be accessible for every survivor of a sexual offence. We also believe that they are important to increase conviction rates for rape, and to increase the chances that rape survivors will receive care and support when they go to court.
It’s up to sexual offences courts to deliver justice for rape and sexual offences survivors, and it’s up to you to make sure that the DOJ does not forget its commitment to rolling out these courts, and meeting the model, across the country. The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign advocates for the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts. We lobby government and we work with communities to build and raise awareness of the need for these courts. There are many ways you can support us.
If you have time, you can take simple steps online to show your solidarity, and to stay informed. Visit our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter. When you share our posts, tweets, and articles you are helping build a society that has the information and knowledge to show why Sexual Offenses Courts are so important. We also do research to make sure we have the best information possible on how survivors can access justice. You can also visit our website to download our research reports and information here.
If you have time and you can come to our events, you can join us physically at public protest actions when we have them. You can find out more about these via our social media, and via our webpage, here. If you’re able to you can also make a donation to our campaign to help us to do this work. By choosing to support us, you can keep twenty-six years of progress on track, and make sure that survivors get the justice they hope for.
[i] 702. Cape Town Opens Its First Sexual Offences Court – 29 November 2018. http://www.702.co.za/articles/329072/cape-town-opens-sa-s-first-sexual-offences-court
[iii] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2013) Annual Report 2012/13. Page 8
[iv] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2014) Annual Report 2013/14. Page 14
[v] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2014) Annual Report 2013/14. Page 18
[vi] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2014) Annual Report 2013/14. Page 108.
[vii] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2015) Annual Report 2014/15. Page 13
[viii] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2016) Annual Report 2015/16. Page 11
[ix] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2017) Annual Report 2016/17. Page 14.
[x] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2018) Annual Report 2017/18. Page 9
[xi] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2018) Annual Report 2017/18. Page 10.
[xii] Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (2014) Annual Report 2013/14. Page 108. http://www.justice.gov.za/reportfiles/anr2013-14.pdf