Sexual offences court revamped

Pictured in front is John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, flanked by Mandisa Xhallie, acting chief magistrate of Mitchells Plain Magistrates Court and Yvette Ismail, court manager.

Flanked by magistrates, prosecutors and the police, John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, assured representatives of local organisations during a visit to the revamped Mitchell’s Plain sexual offences court that victims of rape and sexual assault were protected.

The court is situated at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court, and regional courts for criminal cases may also sit at magistrate’s courts.

Mr Jeffery’s visit on Friday May 4 coincided with him highlighting the department’s progress in fighting the scourge of sexual offences ahead of tabling the department’s budget vote in the National Assembly today, Wednesday May 9.

Jasmine Harris, a Justice of the Peace, asked how the victims were protected because in her experience they were sometimes intimidated and too scared to come to court.

Mr Jeffery asked the different department heads in the province, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and magistrates who sit in the sexual offences court, to answer questions.

Major-General Johan Brand, Khayelitsha SAPS cluster commander, took details of specific cases, where community workers queried the work of SAPS’ criminal investigation division (CID) and whether dockets were disappearing.

Major-General Brand said that docket information was scanned and transferred to the courts digitally. “All cases are entered on the system,” he said.

Ashley Potts, Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF) spokesman, told Mr Jeffery that the relationship between the police and the community was often severed because they were informed that the dockets went missing.

Sandy Schuter, chairperson of Strandfontein CPF and secretary of the Mitchell’s Plain police cluster board, asked whether the forum could be informed when repeat offenders are released in the communities.

Mr Jeffery said they would liaise with the department of Correctional Services to get information to the community.

Amina Coetzee, from the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse, asked about a court case being dragged out for two years.”Victims are traumatised day in and day out and to have a matter on the court roll for two years is pathetic,” she said.

Ms Coetzee also asked about a matter being struck from the court roll because the CID had not completed its work.

Magistrate Jerome Koeries explained that often victims were not well or too tired to testify.

He said witnesses often could not get off from work or the accused was not brought to court.

Mr Jeffery said the community had to be persistent and present at court to report complaints and concerns.

Yvette Ismail, court manager at Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court, told the Plainsman they have a court preparation officer (CPO) and intermediary, who help victims to familiarise themselves with the court processes, procedures, services and benefits.

Senior state prosecutor within the NPA, Sarita Nilraj, explained that the CPO would take victims through trial trauma debriefing sessions before the trial starts and once concluded, help deal with the trauma of the incident.

Usually the prosecutor would apply to the magistrate to allow an intermediary, if the victim, who is a child victim or person with a mental disability, testifies from a private testifying room.

The victim is allowed to testify from the room via a closed-circuit TV system, to prevent the secondary trauma by preventing being in the same room as the accused.

There are also private waiting rooms, wherein a child witness can feel comfortable with a play area, reading centre, and a child’s bed-sofa for resting.

The adult waiting room is also furnished to make the court experience more comfortable for victims.

Ms Nilraj said information services were available, mainly to inform victims of their rights and available court services. “The information is offered in the form of educational booklets, DVDs and in Braille,” she said.

Regional magistrate Mary Jwacu said Mitchell’s Plain’s sexual offences court had dedicated staff, who start at 9am and were willing to do whatever it took to ensure court cases proceed.

The department also provides witnesses with funds to cover the costs of their travel to and from court.