Yesterday, the Minister of Justice cast doubt in a reply to a DA parliamentary question on whether the specialised Sexual Offences Courts will be re-established. This is a real setback in the fight against violence against women and children - ironically coming just as the 16 days of activism against violence against women and children drew to a close.
The Minister states that the task team mandated to investigate the re-establishment of specialised Sexual Offences Courts "cautioned" against re-establishing these courts and wanted more time to conduct further investigations with a view to developing a revised model for sexual offences courts. They were concerned, according to the response, that "gaps" need to be addressed.
Unfortunately the Minister did not divulge what these "gaps" are that allegedly "led to the demise of these courts in the past". The demise of these courts has never really been satisfactorily explained, and happened very quickly with no reference to any "task team".
The DA has been calling for the return of these courts for some time now, as has civil society and even the National Prosecuting Authority themselves. It has been shown that specialised courts achieve a better conviction rate than the normal courts.
Questions have been asked at the United Nations Human Rights Council about measures that are being taken by South Africa to combat the unacceptably high levels of violence against women and children particularly, as well as discriminatory assaults on LGBTI communities. It is therefore really discouraging that our Justice Department is not utilising a mechanism that is known to deliver results to turn this situation around.
The disestablishment of the specialised courts has even been referred to the Public Protector by the National Council of Women of South Africa. The Public Protector is of the view that the Human Rights Commission is the more appropriate body to investigate this, and has referred it to them.
And yet there appears to be no urgency whatsoever from the Justice Ministry in dealing with this issue.
The fact that 64 415 sexual offences cases were reported to the police last year and only 6 913 cases were finalised, is sufficient indication that desperate and urgent measures are needed to deal with sexual offences. The dithering of the Ministry on this issue leaves one with the impression that they do not take it seriously.
Debbie Schafer, Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development