Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA

The government is looking to introduce harsher sentences for sexual offences, femicide and all forms of gender-based violence.

SA has one of the highest rates of women murdered by their partners in the world, according to the Cape Town-based Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health.

Half of all murders of women are carried out by their partners, according to the centre.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said during his budget vote speech in Parliament on Wednesday that it has become necessary to review the Criminal Procedure Act, which prescribes the period within which the state can prosecute persons for allegations of particular categories of crime.

"One of the categories in respect of which we intend to abolish the prescribed period of 20 years is sexual offences, femicide and all forms of gender-based violence. The review will also introduce harsher sentences for these offences," said Masutha.

"Further to combat these heinous crimes, we continue to roll out the dedicated Sexual Offences Courts, which now stand at 75. During this financial year, we will establish 14 additional courts in deserving areas to extend their reach," he said.

"We are mindful of the challenges facing some of these courts, and the deputy minister will highlight some of the interventions we are putting in place to ensure their optimal functioning," the minister said.

Glynnis Breytenbach. Picture: SUPPLIED
Glynnis Breytenbach. Picture: SUPPLIED

Masutha said the government had made steady progress with respect to the transformation of the legal profession.

"The National Forum on Legal Practice is working on the full implementation of the Legal Practice Act, 2014. As part of this process and in making regulations for the Legal Practice Council, which will be the governing structure for the legal profession, there must be a 50/50 (equal) representation of men and women on the council, with a 70/30 black to white representation. This will see the council achieving both gender and racial representivity in line with what is envisaged in the Legal Practice Act. I am advised that this governance model was agreed to by the constituent members of the national forum. This work is due for completion by October 2018."

The department was given a budget of about R19.2bn.

"That budget allocation includes transfers to five entities which form part of this vote. Of that budget, R1.764bn goes to Legal Aid South Africa, R310.6m to the Office of Public Protector, R357.1m to the Special Investigating Unit, R178.8m to the South African Human Rights Commission and R2.216bn as a direct charge to the National Revenue Fund in respect of magistrates’ salaries. The 2018-19 budget allocation represents an overall year-on-year increase of 2%," said Masutha.

Glynnis Breytenbach, DA MP and spokeswoman on justice and constitutional development, said statistics show that SA is moving backwards — "that we are finalising fewer and fewer cases with convictions, that the backlog of cases in all courts except the high courts, continues to increase".

"We are less and less effective. Court hours across all courts, from the lower courts to the high courts, are decreasing. Courts across the board start late, adjourn early and postpone cases for long periods, causing the cost of litigation, both criminal and civil, to be beyond the reach of all but a few ordinary South Africans," Breytenbach said.