The South African government has announced that 22 sexual offences courts are to be reintroduced by the end of the 2013/14 financial year, with specially trained officials and equipment to reduce the chance of secondary trauma for victims.
"We believe that these sexual offences courts will help address the growing challenge of sexual offences in the country, particularly against vulnerable groups," Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe said in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Radebe made the announcement at the release of a report by the ministerial advisory task team on the adjudication of sexual offences matters to investigate the viability of re-establishing sexual offences courts.
The investigation was commissioned in June 2012.
The courts will feature a proper screening process to identify cases that fall within the sexual offences category; a special room where victims will testify; a private waiting room for adult witnesses; a private waiting room for child witnesses and victim support services.
It will also include a designated court clerk and a court preparation programme for witnesses to prepare for court and to provide debriefing after they have testified.
Special equipment for identification
The courts will have special equipment to enable victims to identify the accused from the testifying room when required to do so.
The concept of sexual offences courts was introduced in South Africa in 1993 and by the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts countrywide.
Radebe said while the courts increased conviction rates and led to a decrease in turnaround time from the date of report to the police to the finalisation of the case, there were a number of challenges that led to their demise.
"Some of the challenges included the lack of a specific framework to establish these courts, a dedicated budget, poor visibility of these courts in remote areas, restricted space capacity in courts, lack of training of court personnel and monitoring and evaluation mechanism developed specifically for the management of these courts."
Nine sexual offences courts continued to operate in various areas and a number of courts were dedicated to prioritise sexual offences related matters by the regional court presidents.
"The task team has concluded that our current court system requires special courts to ensure an adequate response to the special needs of the sexual offence victims. There are sufficient grounds and a compelling need for the re-establishment of sexual offences courts," he said.
'Prompt, responsive court system'
He said the specialised courts would reinforce the establishment of a victim-centred court system that is prompt, responsive and effective, reduce secondary victimisation, improve skills of court personnel, reduce the cycle time in finalising sexual offences cases and contribute to the efficient prosecution and adjudication of these cases.
"Work in the implementation of these recommendations has already commenced. The department has already identified 57 regional courts for upgrading and equipping with modern technology to operate as sexual offences courts. This work has commenced in the 2013/14 financial year," he said.
"We have enough in our 2013/14 financial year budget to ensure that 22 of those courts will be up and running in this year. In terms of projections, we think that in a three-year period we would have completed properly equipping all these 57 courts."
The department would be opening the Butterworth Sexual Offences Court in the Eastern Cape on 16 August.
South Africa had seen a rise in sexual violence against women and children and government could not remain unmoved.
Radebe said the reintroduction of the courts would "ensure that those perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be brought to book and this is one of the ways of dealing with it".
Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, said the National Prosecuting Authority welcomed the resuscitation of the specialised courts.
"There are constraints in the budget but as the NPA, we will ensure that these courts are resourced with efficient and competent prosecutors," she said, adding that there was a Sexual Offences Courts unit within the NPA, and so there was a pool of prosecutors to resource the courts.