At RSJC we believe that we need the proper implementation of sexual offences courts to restore survivors’ confidence in the judicial system and increase their willingness to come forward. The more sexual offences that are reported, investigated and prosecuted, the more survivors will be prepared to come forward and lay charges.
We have prepared a reader-friendly version of the regulations below.
To read the full regulations click here, (pages 45 to 67 of the Government Gazette).
The new regulations for sexual offences recognise the need to limit secondary trauma of the survivor. One method of implementing this is by changing the architecture of the court, which aims to reduce the stress and trauma related to testifying.
Survivors of rape and other sexual offences often find it very difficult to navigate the court building. There are therefore now specifications for the rooms and layouts within the courts that need to be adhered to. The waiting area needs to be comfortable and safe and all rooms need to be accessible to adults, people with disabilities and children.
From the regulations:
A designated court must have, at least, the following facilities:
(a) A waiting area for complainants as provided for in regulation 8;
(b) a testifying room as provided for in regulation 9;
(c) a court preparation room as provided for in regulation 10; and
(d) a consultation room, for the prosecutor to consult with a complainant, as provided for
in regulation 10.”
All sexual offences courts must have a set of anatomical dolls. It is the court manager’s role to ensure that there is at least one full set of six anatomical dolls ranging from a male and female of a child, an adult and an aged person.
The court room must also have specialist equipment that enables the survivor to give evidence without having to be face to face or in the same room as the accused. This means that CCTV or similar equipment must be available in a testifying room for giving evidence. The testifying room needs to be a space that makes the complainants and witnesses (both adults and children) feel at ease. It needs to be well lit and conducive to giving evidence.
“The devices and equipment found in the court room must be of such quality so as to enable the efficient and effective giving of evidence by complainants and witnesses and to avoid secondary traumatisation of such complainants and witnesses.
The court room must have closed circuit television (CCTV) or similar electronic media for giving evidence and the witness must be able to testify (through electronic devices or directly) and be seen and heard from somewhere other than the court.
The court manager must ensure that there is at least one set of anatomical dolls available at the designated court for use by the prosecutor and intermediary: Often children and vulnerable adults are required to testify in sexual offences matters. Children, especially very young children, have a limited ability to verbalise their experiences and this hampers their ability to disclose the details of sexual abuse. There was a need for reliable investigative tools to assist with interviewing children in cases of sexual abuse, and anatomical drawings and anatomical dolls are therefore used.”
When survivors of rape enter the criminal justice system they need to be supported and provided with information about the system and about the specific case. That means that the people working on a sexual offence case all need to be knowledgeable and to work together. From the police officer who took down her report and investigated her case, to the doctor who examined her, and the prosecutor, magistrate and court preparation officer who sought justice for her, they all need to listen to the survivor and to work together in seeking justice while having the knowledge to be able to process and prosecute her case correctly and as efficiently as possible.
Court supporters play a dual role in that they help the complainant to become familiar with the court proceedings and layout of the court and help to reduce the secondary trauma experienced by the survivor. It is therefore extremely important that, where a court supporter is available, they are the primary support in sexual offences matters. One of the main roles of the court supporter is to understand that, while testifying in the trial or consulting with the prosecutor, the complainant may experience the same traumatic thoughts and feelings that they experienced at the time of the rape. The court supporter knows this and supports the complainant by helping to carry this heavy load. After the consultation or testimony, court supporters provide a safe place for complainants and witnesses to debrief from the traumatic thoughts and feelings that they experience after testifying etc.
From the regulations: “A court preparation programme must be operational at a designated court. The persons involved in the criminal justice system must be made aware of the court preparation programme.
Trauma debriefing must be available to judicial officers, prosecutors, court preparation officers, victim assistance officers; and court officials employed by the State. An interpreter must, in addition to his or her main functions, be
A sexual offences court must also supply the services of a court supporter. The Court Supporter is appointed by a Non-Profit Organisation and has been trained to fulfil this role. The Court Supporter plays a dual role in that they help the complainant to become familiar with the court proceedings and layout and help to reduce the secondary trauma experienced by the survivor. Their primary focus is to provide psycho-social support to the survivor.”
We are also pleased to see that the amendments to the sexual offences act state that “a designated [sexual offences] court must ensure that all sexual offence cases are finalised expeditiously and that delays are avoided as far as possible.”