15 February 2021 by and Pro Bono & Human Rights Alert

The fight against GBV – three new bills

The scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) continues to worsen each year, and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown only exasperated the horrors of the widespread nature of the GBV crisis in our country. In the first three weeks of the national lockdown, the government’s GBV and femicide command centre recorded over 120,000 victims.

In an effort to strengthen the existing legislative response to GBV, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced three bills that aim to better regulate the way government departments, law enforcement and the courts respond to cases of violence against women.

These three bills were introduced by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services in the National Assembly in August 2020. All three bills are currently before the National Assembly. Below are summaries of the most notable changes brought about by each bill.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill

The bill aims to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (SORMA). It was introduced to Parliament on 19 August 2020, and aims to make several changes - the most notable of which are to recognise sexual intimidation as an offence; to expand the National Register for Sex Offenders to include sex offenders beyond those convicted of sexual offences against children and persons who are mentally disabled; requiring that the full name, surname, identity number and sexual offence also be included in the Register, and providing for further regulation surrounding the reporting duty of persons who are aware of sexual offences being committed against children. This includes a person who has knowledge, reasonable belief or a suspicion, and the failure to report this to a police official will result in the person being guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.

Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill

This bill was introduced into Parliament on 28 August 2020. It aims to amend the Magistrates’ Courts Act and the Superior Courts Act to provide for the appointment of intermediaries and the giving of evidence through intermediaries and audio-visual links in proceedings on application by any party to proceedings other than criminal proceedings. Provisions will also be added to ensure that perpetrators of GBV are not released on bail before their first appearance in the lower courts.

The bill also aims to introduce changes to the CPA to further regulate the giving of evidence via closed-circuit television or similar electronic media and the right of a complainant in a domestic related offence to participate in bail and parole proceedings. This provides survivors or the relatives of a deceased victim the opportunity to be heard before the court or the parole board before any decision is made. In addition to allowing for an opportunity to be heard, being able to give evidence via closed-circuit television also provides the victim with the added protection of not having to be in the same room as the perpetrator.

Domestic Violence Amendment Act

This bill was introduced to Parliament on 7 September 2020, and seeks to make five overarching changes which includes the broadening of the domestic violence definition to include elder abuse, coercive behaviour, controlling behaviour and exposing or subjecting children to listed behaviour. This is turn recognises these forms of domestic violence and therefore widens the scope of the application of the Domestic Violence Act.

The bill also provides for the online submission of protection orders and the addition of the protection order to a central depository that stores other orders and cases against the same person to prevent perpetrators from hiding their past histories of domestic violence.

Our government’s response to GBV has resulted in significant developments in our criminal law, in addition to the notable 2018 amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act to do away with prescription in the context of criminal charges for sexual offences. While these are all welcomed developments, our civil law lags behind. In line with our core focus on women’s rights, our practice is currently pursuing what we believe to be the meaningful and significant development of our civil law in relation to sexual offences, and we will continue to meaningfully engage in further areas in need of development in our civil law. Our practice will also keep a close eye on the progression of these three bills as well as further significant developments in both the criminal law and the civil law space as they pertain to GBV and sexual offences.

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