Jackson Mthembu. Picture: SOWETAN
Jackson Mthembu. Picture: SOWETAN

The cabinet has approved a bill for submission to parliament that will allow for the prosecution of people suspected of having committed sexual offences, irrespective of when the crime occurred. 

The Prescription in Civil and Criminal Matters (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill arises from a Constitutional Court judgment that declared section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutional.

The section lists the crimes that are excluded from the 20-year prescription, and includes rape, compelled rape, murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, and several other crimes, but does not include other sexual offences.

At a media briefing on Thursday minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said the bill also proposed amendments to section 12 of the Prescription Act which regulates when prescriptions in civil matters begin to run, and similar to the Criminal Procedure Act it also reflects a limited list of sexual offences.

“These proposed amendments will provide the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) with a wider discretion to institute the prosecution of sexual offences cases that were committed even 20 years earlier,” Mthembu said.

The matter was brought to the Constitutional Court in June last year to confirm the declaration of invalidity of section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which was handed down in the Johannesburg high court. The Constitutional Court confirmed the declaration of invalidity.

The “Frankel Eight” went to the high court in an attempt to change the law, which prevented victims of sexual abuse from criminally charging their abusers 20 years after the crime was committed.

The application arose from the refusal by the director of public prosecutions in Gauteng to prosecute the late billionaire Sidney Frankel, whom the applicants alleged had sexually assaulted them in and around Johannesburg more than 20 years ago when they were between six and 15 years old. The refusal was on the basis of the prescription provided in the Criminal Procedures Act.

The eight applicants were adult males and females who alleged they were sexually assaulted by Frankel between 1970 and 1989.

The high court held that it was entirely irrational and arbitrary to create a random cut off period of 20 years for the prescription of sexual offences when there was a sufficient body of evidence demonstrating that these offences inflict deep and continuous trauma on survivors.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za