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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Association of Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa (ARMSA)’s Annual General Conference, held at Misty Hills, Muldersdrift, Gauteng, 23 November 2019

Programme Director,
The President and Executive Committee of ARMSA,
Ladies and gentlemen,
This coming Monday marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign which runs from the 25th of November to the 10th of December.

The campaign aims to attract all South Africans to be active participants in the fight to eradicate violence against women and children.

Over this period Government will convene a series of dialogues on violence against women and children to focus on the problem, to discuss the causes and to find appropriate solutions. Through the dialogue sessions Government will also interact with community members who experience violence and abuse.

Gender-based violence affects us all, it has plagued many of our communities, and left a devastating impact.

Gender-based violence can take many different forms – it can be domestic violence, it can be intimate partner violence, or harassment, incest, assault, it can be sexual abuse or sexual violence.

In September last year, the President and Government affirmed our commitment to addressing gender-based violence and femicide, in response to social activism across the country against the inadequate response to the scourge.

The roll out of immediate measures, in the next six months, to fast track a more medium-term approach to addressing gender-based violence and femicide was made a priority and an Emergency Action Plan was announced in Parliament in October.
The plan focuses on improving access to justice for survivors of violence and prevention campaigns to change attitudes and behaviour.
It also involves measures to strengthen the criminal justice process and to prioritise the creation of economic opportunities for women who are vulnerable to abuse.

The overall goal of the Emergency Action Plan is to address any systemic failures to respond to Gender-Based Violence and Femicide firstly by the state and then more broadly by society.

The Plan aims ensure that the public are better informed about laws, rights and responsibilities underpinned by a public education campaign around survivor’s rights (women, children and LGBTQI persons) under the law and challenging societal attitudes around patriarchy, harmful gender norms and related forms of discrimination and inequalities.

A further aim is improved access to care, support and prevention services and interventions through strengthened support for those involved in response and prevention, including civil society stakeholders and strengthened accountability and architecture to adequately respond to the scourge of GBV.

Finally, the plan aims to increase access to economic opportunities that set out to meaningfully address women’s social and economic vulnerability.

The respective interventions that will be rolled out between October 2019 and 31 March 2020 are based on certain key pillars, namely:

Some of the interventions of the plan include:

There is also a strong focus on the immediate roll out of training on victim-centric, survivor-focused services, with a specific drive to train police, prosecutors, magistrates and policy makers.

I am pleased to say that we are making good progress on the implementation of this plan and magistrates have been key to the success of the Plan as they are important members of our Emergency Response Task Team.

One of the issues they have identified is the issue of training of magistrates.

As you know, the training is done by SAJEI and it has been proposed that the training should deal with protection orders and should cover all three pieces of legislation – focusing on domestic violence, harassment and older persons. It should make it clear which act is applicable and focus on the orders to be given, especially in respect of harassment under the domestic violence and harassment legislation.  

This could potentially also be considered for developing an online course for magistrates, as online courses is something SAJEI is currently looking into.

There is also a strong focus on sexual offences and how the criminal justice system deals with sexual offences.

In the discussions during the National Summit against Gender-based Violence and Femicide many of the role-players stated that the criminal justice system is failing them.

They mentioned the poor implementation of laws and programmes. They spoke about secondary traumatisation caused by a lack of information to survivors, long and neglected queues at service points, insensitive treatment at service points, delayed or poor police investigations and repeated case postponements, high numbers of nolle prosequi decisions or charges being withdrawn without prior consultation.

They mentioned under-resourced shelters, not enough Thuthuzela Care Centres and sexual offences courts and a poor referral system in the criminal justice system.

All role-players in the criminal justice system have a role to play to ensure that we fix whatever is broken in the system.

For this reason, in the Emergency Action Plan we specifically included an indicator on strengthening the performance of Sexual Offences Courts (SOCs).

I suggested that we select a few identified SOCs with high caseloads of sexual offences.

In response to this, judicial officers pointed out that we also need to look at the improvement of case management strategies at courts, which should include aspects such as docket reviews.

With reference to sexual offences statistics, judicial officers also told us that they have particular challenges in respect of the subpoenaing of witnesses and that we need to find ways to ensure that this can be improved – they specifically mentioned initiatives such as SMS notifications.

They also mentioned that section 158 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides for evidence using electronic means for audio-visual testimony of witnesses not at the court and that one could look into utilising this more - particularly for expert witnesses such as those from forensic laboratories, doctors and so forth - so that they do not need to travel.

It can be cost-saving as well as making it easier to schedule specific times for the witnesses.

For this to work, courts would need a laptop with Skype, connection cables for TVs in court rooms and data connection. This is being tested in Limpopo and could be one of the innovations that can assist to improve performance.

It has also been suggested that in the beginning linking with the forensic laboratories, and possibly the TTC’s where relevant, could be considered. It was further suggested that it can be used not only for testimony purposes, but also for the prosecutors to consult - especially as consultation prior to the trial is often challenging.

The identified sexual offences project sites are in Gauteng, North West, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. We’ve also included two more provinces, being the Free State (at Welkom SOC) and KwaZulu-Natal (at Umlazi SOC).

We are also looking closely at the courts and their caseloads. To give you an example, the top 5 courts with the highest number of new Sexual Offences cases are:

Those with the highest number of withdrawals look very similar:

Other suggestions from magistrates in order to improve court performance include that consideration be given to a phased-in development of online applications in respect of protection orders – for example, it can start with the emailing of applications to centralised protection order email addresses at each court, as well as providing applicants with the orders and warrants in an electronic format.

It has also been suggested that the development a web portal to upload applications and to obtain orders electronically could be considered.

This would also assist protection order clerks and could also be linked with the ICMS for protection orders to make the capturing thereof easier. It will mean that there will be a database that the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority would be able to access to check if there are any current protection orders against a person.

Victim support is also vital. When it comes to victim support, the SAPS now has 1071 victim-friendly rooms and has allocated 312 new recruits currently undergoing basic training to the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units.

To date, 7,000 rape evidence collection kits have been distributed to police stations across the country.
A project to reopen unresolved murder and sexual offences cases (so-called cold cases) will soon be operational. It has already begun in the Eastern Cape.

We have 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres and we are in the process of establishing three new TCCs in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The Department of Health has 281 designated health facilities offering services to victims and the Department of Social Development has 112 shelters, 20 White doors and 8 Khuseleka One Stop Centres. Provinces are also identifying underutilised buildings that can be refurbished and used as shelters.

As you may have seen in the media, the National Register for Sex Offenders is operational, although there are some challenges with the issuing of the certificates.

The Sexual Offences Act provides that names of people convicted of sexual offences against children or persons with mental disabilities must be included in the register.

As you know, the Act only gives employers in the public or private sectors of people looking after children or people with mental disabilities access to the register, to check that the person being hired is fit to work with children or mentally disabled people.

This is something that needs to be widened.

For example, if a person is managing a women's residence at a tertiary education institution, currently none of those employees have to be vetted because those living in the residence are adults.

We will therefore be bringing amendments to the Sexual Offences Act early next year proposing that offenders with any conviction for a sexual offence should be in the register.

Whether or not to make the register public will require intense consultation and debate, as there is also the threat of possible vigilante justice occurring.
Other important legislative developments that we are working on and which are vital to the fight against GBV include a Bill to establish a National Council on GBVF, amendments to provisions relating to bail to provide for more stringent measures and considerations in certain cases related to GBVF as well as possible amendments to sentencing laws to introduce stricter measures in certain GBVF related crimes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our magistrates, and our magistrates’ courts, are at the very coalface of the fight against GBV and therefore valuable stakeholders in our efforts.

I want to express our sincere thanks and appreciation from the side of Government to our Regional Magistrates who are dealing, on a daily basis, with some of the most serious and most horrific cases of Gender-Based Violence and they often have to do their work under challenging circumstances.

The NDP’s Vision 2030 states that “in 2030, people living in South Africa feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy a community life free of fear. Women walk freely in the streets and children play safely outside.

We must ensure that we spare no effort and that we leave no stone unturned in making this vision a reality.

I thank you.