Is the 2007 sexual offences legislation making a difference?

20 June 2011,
Tomorrow morning the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development will meet to hear reports from the Department of Justice and Civil Society Organisations on the implementation of the Criminal Law [Sexual Offences and Related Matters] Amendment Act (Sexual Offences Act).

The Act, passed in December 2007, introduced broad reforms to the laws on sexual offences. These reforms were intended to “provide the maximum and least traumatising” protection to victims of sexual offences. The act includes objectives to protect victims from secondary victimisation, improve investigation and prosecution standards, strengthen coordination between government departments, entrench accountability in government service providers and strengthen service delivery to complainants of sexual offences.

Much attention has been given over the past decade to the negative impact of criminal justice process on the majority of victims of sexual offences. This has been attributed to poor standards of investigation and prosecution and low conviction rates. In addition victims have reported high rates of secondary victimisation due to poor skills and insensitive attitudes.

The question is: Has the new Sexual Offences Act, in operation since December 2007, started to address these violations of victim’s rights and achieve its’ aims?

The Act requires that the Minister of Justice, in consultation with a number of other relevant Ministers, develop a National Policy Framework within one year of the Act being passed and that the Minister report to Parliament annually on the implementation of the Act. Three and a half years down the line, the Portfolio Committee is calling the department to report for the first time.

The Committee have created space for brief civil society input at tomorrow’s meeting which the National Working Group on Sexual Offences have gratefully accepted, however the Working Group is requesting that the committee consider more comprehensive hearings with civil society to obtain a broader perspective from survivors of sexual violence on the impact of this broad-ranging Act.

On Wednesday the 22nd, the Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development will hold a similar session to assess the implementation of the Child Justice Act.

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