19 June 2017

South Africa: High Court Strikes Down 20-Year 'Expiry Date' On Prosecuting Sexual Offences

Photo: Joe Gratz/Flickr
Judge's gavel.

The High Court in Johannesburg has lifted a 20-year "expiry date" on prosecuting sexual offences.

In a victory for victims of sexual abuse, the court has declared Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutional, after it was challenged by the alleged victims of the late billionaire Sydney Frankel.

On Monday the court declared that section 18 of the CPA was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid, to the extent that it bars the right to institute a prosecution for all sexual offences - other than those listed in section 18 - after 20 years has passed since the time of the offence.

The court said the declaration of constitutional invalidity had been suspended for a period of 18 months, in order to allow Parliament to remedy the constitutional defect.

Ian Levitt, representing the victims known as the Frankel 8, said they would now approach the Constitutional Court - which is the highest court in the land - to confirm the order.

The Women's Legal Centre, The Teddy Bear Clinic (TTBC), and Lawyers for Human Rights were supporting the Frankel 8's case in the matter.

The eight people claimed they were sexually assaulted by Frankel as long ago as 30 years before his death.

They laid criminal charges in 2015, but the case never went ahead due to the limitation of the statute of prosecution. Frankel died of cancer in his Johannesburg home on April 13 this year.

He was 68.

Under the present law, the right to initiate prosecution lapses after 20 years for crimes of sexual assault.

This, however, does not apply to other serious offences, like murder, treason, kidnapping, genocide, and rape.

The eight applicants had approached the court to have section 18 of the CPA declared unconstitutional, arguing that the current limitation infringed on their right to dignity.

They were also lobbying for section 18 to be struck down for adults as well as for children.


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