This is the third in a series of blogs written on the panel discussion we hosted in partnership with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society on developing court models in South Africa. As you will know from the previous pieces I have written in this series, the discussion was lively and the researchers presented valuable information.
The idea of sexual offences courts is a home grown South African model, but it had its challenges. The report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts was released in 2013 and highlighted a lot of these challenges. It further tried to address some of these challenges by paying a great deal of attention to the infrastructure of sexual offences courts: the amount of waiting rooms, passages, doors, and chairs. We were of course very excited to see this blue print, simply because it is a thing of beauty.
And then the reality hit. Our state purses are near empty. In most court buildings there is simply no space for multiple waiting rooms and additional passages. There is not enough budget to even afford the number of chairs that the blue print requires. Rural courts do not have the resources to support such an expensive endeavour. This was echoed by the researchers during the panel discussion. While infrastructure is important insofar as it reduces secondary trauma, fancy infrastructure alone does not make a sexual offences court.
We realised that we had to fine tune our demands. Instead of demanding sexual offences courts according to the blue print, of which our government could probably only afford 10, we are lobbying the Department of Justice and others to roll out sexual offences courts across South Africa so that more survivors can access them. We have done this according to a new set of requirements and outlined these in the Regulations on Sexual Offences Courts. While the regulations are still in draft form, we are pushing for them to contain minimum requirements for infrastructure at sexual offences courts that are much less structurally demanding and therefore much more achievable. This has one goal – to reduce secondary trauma suffered by survivors. Because that is what our work boils down to; making the criminal justice system more supportive of survivors.