Loopholes in sex offences act closed

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File picture: President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Neil Baynes

Sexual predators in the Western Cape once again face the full might of the law after President Jacob Zuma signed an amended Sexual Offences Act on June 23.

The new law was published in the Government Gazette three days later, thus coming into effect on June 26.

The announcement was made on Thursday.

The amendment was rushed through Parliament just weeks earlier as an emergency measure after a full Bench of the Western Cape High Court had ruled that 29 sexual offences contained in the act were not legally enforceable.

The judges argued that the failure by lawmakers to prescribe penalties made the offences “unpunishable”.

This raised the fear that sexual offenders prosecuted in the Western Cape since the act came into force in December 2009 could successfully challenge their convictions – or have pending cases dismissed – on the strength of the precedent-setting ruling.

Amid a public outcry, MPs quickly drafted and agreed to an amendment which sailed through the laborious legislative process in record time.

Because no law can be made to act retrospectively, the National Prosecuting Authority also appealed the Western Cape High Court’s judgment before the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, which overturned the ruling last month.

The success of this two-pronged approach means all loopholes in the legislation have now been plugged.

The relevant provision of the emergency bill now states that in situations where the act does not prescribe penalties, it is left to the courts to determine punishment within their sentencing jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, the justice department has begun drafting a new bill that will prescribe sentences for each of the 29 affected offences.

They include: compelled rape; sexual assault; compelled self-sexual assault; flashing; incest; bestiality; sexual acts with a corpse; displaying child pornography; engaging sexual services of persons older than 18; and some forms of statutory rape.

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