Honourable Chairperson, Minister Ronald Lamola,
Deputy Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
The Chairperson and Members of the Portfolio Committee, Honourable Members,
I am wearing this kufiyeh in solidarity with the human rights of the people of Palestine. I also stand here today in solidarity with the LGBTIQ people from Uganda.
As we enter the last year of the current Administration, there is a renewed commitment and a sense of urgency to finalize and complete all the outstanding initiatives and programmes which we had undertaken to do at the start of this Administration.
Service delivery and access to justice for all remain utmost priorities for our Department.
Access to justice is not just access to the courts - it also means access to justice services, to be assisted with dignity by efficient justice officials, to know one’s constitutional rights, how to access these rights and to know where to go when these rights are infringed.
We continue to support and strengthen our Magistrates Courts as best we can. Our Magistrates Courts face a number of challenges on a daily basis. These contribute to case backlogs.
Backlog cases are cases which are on the roll for more than six months in the District Courts and more than nine months in the Regional Courts.
There are many different reasons why cases are postponed, such as, amongst others, loadshedding, water outages, the unavailability of interpreters, postponements for further police investigations, the unavailability of legal practitioners, prosecutors or magistrates and/or malfunctioning court equipment.
Some of these factors fall within the area of responsibility of our Department, whilst others are the responsibility of other criminal justice stakeholders.
All of these reasons for postponements are continuously being tracked and monitored so that appropriate interventions can be made where these they fall within the responsibility of our Department. Where they do not, we engage with the relevant stakeholder.
To combat the challenges of loadshedding and water outages, the Department has introduced a National Facilities Project for the installation of inverters, generators, solar systems, boreholes and water tanks in our courts.
Of paramount importance going forward is the rationalisation of the judicial establishment of the Lower Courts as it will ensure we have the correct number of District and Regional Magistrates at each court. The Committee on the Rationalisation of the Lower Courts Judicial Establishments, under the chairpersonship of Mr Sam Makamu, is making progress and is expected to submit their report by the end of November this year. Some of the vacant Magistrates posts cannot be filled if it is likely that that post may be moved to another court. There are, however, still acting Magistrates appointed in these positions.
Access to justice also means improving the protection of rights of those who are vulnerable and making it easier for them to access the justice system as well as receiving the necessary support.
The recently passed three GBV Amendment Acts, which are now all in effect, have drastically changed the architecture of the legal framework in the GBVF sector.
One of the salient changes introduced by the Amendment Acts is the recognition of nonverbal communications as oral evidence. A witness under the age of 18 years or any witness who suffers from a physical, psychological, mental or emotional condition, which inhibits their ability to give oral evidence, may use demonstrations, gestures or any non-verbal expression, including the use of communication devices when testifying.
In the previous financial year, the Department amended the Minimum Service Standards for the Strategy on Reasonable Accommodations and Measures to Access Justice for Courts Users with Disabilities in line with these legal developments.
Some 70 lower courts were upgraded in line with these Minimum Standards to provide reasonable accommodations and disability-centric support services.
A total of 145 disability-centric courts have been established nationwide in the previous two financial years, and in this financial year, the Department plans to upgrade an additional 65 lower courts to offer these reasonable accommodations.
The National Prosecuting Authority has seen significant improvements in the expansion of its Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) whilst maintaining high sexual offences conviction rates, with a current conviction rate of 76%.
To date there are 63 operational TCCs located in rural, urban and peri-urban communities nationally. The Jozini TCC in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, which became operational on 1 May 2023, is the most recent addition.
Government’s National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence (the NSP) provided further impetus for the NPA to forge private sector partnerships to increase the number of TCCs, and to re- accommodate or renovate existing TCCs.
One such partnership with Mediclinic resulted in the first TCC to be housed in an unused university student residence of the University of Stellenbosch. It is targeted to be launched as the Stellenbosch TCC later this year.
To enhance access for the physically disabled, all TCCs are equipped with ramps.
In preparation for the declaration of Sign Language as the 12th official language, the NPA’s SOCA unit collaborated with the deaf community and the Wits Centre for Deaf Studies, to produce a South African Sign Language video which welcomes deaf victims or survivors to the TCC, explains the TCC process and what each of the role players does.
With the unabated increase of sexual violence in the country, the court system has to be responsive and more accessible to survivors of sex crimes so as to increase reporting and the use of the courts, while reducing the withdrawal rate by complainants in these cases.
With regards to our Sexual Offences Courts, one of the provisions in the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, which is currently before this House, amends section 55A of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act to enable the Minister to designate specific Regional Court places of sitting as Sexual Offences Courts. Currently the definition of a Regional Court is the Regional Court of a Province which includes all places of sitting.
The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act further recognizes the use of ad hoc intermediaries
at criminal and non-criminal proceedings.
Intermediary services were limited to child witnesses and persons with mental disabilities, but are now available to older persons, as well as witnesses, who suffer from a physical, psychological, mental or emotional condition.
In order to increase the national numerical capacity of our intermediaries, in this financial year the Department plans to employ additional 100 ad hoc intermediaries to appear at criminal and civil proceedings.
Pursuant to the recent changes introduced by this Parliament in the management of the National Register for Sex Offenders, which were made in response to the demands made by women who marched in 2018 under the umbrella of #TheTotalShutDown Movement, the Department has since 31 July last year amended this Register to include particulars of all convicted sex offenders, irrespective of the age and the mental status of the sex crime victim.
I therefore urge educators, lecturers and other workers at tertiary institutions, social workers, heath care officials, child-care givers, employees at pre-schools and nurseries, employees at civil society organisations, and other persons who offer services directly to vulnerable persons to apply for the NRSO clearance certificates as failure to do so amounts to a punishable offence.
The Department will also be introducing an online NRSO application solution to ensure make these services more accessible.
The Integrated Electronic Repository for Protection Orders will be developed in this financial year to ensure that the whole of the Domestic Violence Amendment Act can come into effect. When this Act came into operation on 14 April this year, section 6A which requires the Director- General of Justice and Constitutional Development to establish this Repository, was excluded.
Through this Repository, our courts will, amongst others, be able to be aware of protection orders made by another court.
In this financial year, the Department will also be developing a National Strategy for Domestic Violence to create a seamless chain of value support services to survivors of domestic violence in the criminal justice system.
The violence and discrimination faced by the LGBTIQ+ community is rooted in historical and systemic discrimination linked to intolerance in some religious, cultural and traditional beliefs as well South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past.
Our Constitution, as well as legislative provisions such as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, provide explicit protections against violence and discrimination, yet the LGBTIQ+ community continues to face stigmatization, violence and discrimination in their daily lives.
Many also report that they have challenges in accessing services from some government and other service providers.
We are currently, once again, reviewing the National Intervention Strategy (the NIS) on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics Matters, so as to ensure that the activities in this NIS continue to meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ people.
The National Task Team (NTT) on Gender and Sexual Orientation Based Violence Perpetrated Against LGBTIQ+ Persons was initially established to respond to hate crimes against these communities. However, as the adoption of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan includes violence against Queer people, this means that the NTT has to reconsider its role.
As a result, the reviewed NIS now addresses issues of access to broader human, socio-economic, civil and political rights to LGBTIQ+ people in South Africa.
The revised NIS focuses on prevention programmes to address violence and unfair discrimination on the grounds of SOGIESC, as well as working with faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, human rights organisations, public officials and institutions.
It also includes capacity building of officials at service points and service providers in order to address secondary victimization.
As many are aware, in November last year Cabinet approved the publishing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill of 2022 regarding the decriminalization of sex work for public comments.
The Bill aims to repeal the Sexual Offences Act (previously the Immorality Act) of 1957 and also to repeal Section 11 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007 to decriminalise the sale and purchase of adult sex services.
Sex work and the question of how the South African legal system should respond to sex work has been the subject of considerable debate in South Africa.
The proposals of this Bill respond to the list of interventions proposed in Pillar 3 (Protection, Safety and Justice) of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, which enjoins the criminal justice system to provide protection, safety and justice for survivors of GBV, and to effectively hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
Pillar 3 of the NSP contains a list of key interventions, key activities and indicators. One of the key activities under Pillar 3 is the “finalisation of legislative processes to decriminalize sex work – fast- tracking and promulgation.”
This follows the view that the on-going criminalisation of sex work contributes to GBVF as it leaves sex workers unprotected by the law, unable to exercise their rights and open to abuse generally, not least when they approach state facilities for assistance.
The Bill was published for public comment, with a closing date for comments being the end of January this year. The Bill deals only with the decriminalisation of sex work as an urgent step to ensure better protection for sex workers from gender-based violence and femicide, with the intention being to consider regulation as the second stage in the process.
In preparing the Bill for final approval by Cabinet, concerns have been raised by the State Law Advisors that the Bill may not pass constitutional muster if it does not also provide for the regulation of sex work. This view is supported by a legal opinion from a Senior Counsel.
This means that we will not be able to, at this point, proceed with the Bill in its current form. We will therefore be engaging with role-players and drafting provisions on the regulation of sex work so as to ensure that a revised Bill is ready for introduction at the beginning of the next Administration.
The decriminalisation of sex work and the human rights of sex workers remain high on government’s human rights agenda.
To conclude, Honourable Members,
We are entering the last year of the current Administration.
We do not have a minute to waste. We have one year left of this term in which to make a difference in the lives of people and to ensure that our communities receive the services they are entitled to.
This budget will enable us to do so.
I thank you.