As part of government’s commitment to support victims of sexual violence, 33 regional courts have been upgraded into sexual offences courtrooms.
Partnerships with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups, civil society organisations and the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster has seen 22 sexual violence cases being finalised and offenders sentenced to periods ranging from six years to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Detailing its programme of action post the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the JCPS cluster said 11 cases were withdrawn for various reasons, including reluctant witnesses and tracing of perpetrators and victims. Two cases were withdrawn with an acquittal.
“Twenty-three cases remain pending but are receiving urgent attention from the SAPS [South African Police Service], with dockets being recalled and re-examined,” cluster chairperson, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said on Thursday.
However, the Minister said the cluster remains concerned about reports of sexual violence in the country and continue to identify measures to deal with these heinous crimes.
South Africa opened its first Sexual Offences Court in August 2013.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said the cluster is committed to improving access to justice with programmes targeting the poorest of the poor to give them access to qualitative and speedy justice.
“Our government is committed to delivering equal access to justice for all South Africans – rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural. The transformation of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) will strengthen the confidence of our people in the fair and impartial administration of justice for all.”
Protecting judiciary independence, reducing case backlog
As part of strengthening the constitutionality and independence of the judiciary, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development transferred the functions of the High Courts to the Office of the Chief Justice on 1 October 2014.
In 201516, the Office of the Chief Justice is expected to acquire its own budget vote, which will enable it to operate fully as a national government department separate from the Department of Justice.
The cluster has also introduced various measures to deal with case backlogs in courts.
Currently, 30 regional and 23 district backlog courts are serving as case backlog courts.
The interventions have seen the reduction of criminal case backlogs to 27 978 at the end of December 2014.
This comprises 12 768 district court backlog cases – which are cases on the court roll longer than six months – out of 137 345 outstanding district court cases and 15 210 regional court backlog cases (cases on the court roll longer than nine months) – out of 31 256 outstanding regional court cases.
The target for finalising cases through Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (ADRM) was met and 135 172 cases were finalised in this regard for the year till end December 2014, with 43 587 cases finalised for the quarter (against the Quarter 3 target of 35 809).
On the roll out of Small Claims Courts, the cluster reported that a total of 30 of these courts have been established across South Africa and 37 of them were created in the past financial year until the end of January 2015 alone.
The programme of the cluster will also see new High Courts for the communities of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, who have to travel to Pretoria to get access High Court services.
The Limpopo seat of the High Court will start operating from the beginning of April 2015, while that of Mpumalanga will follow a year later, according to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula.
“We are also working hard to ensure that all people in our country are not deterred from accessing justice by financial constraints,” she said.
Source : SAnews.gov.za