Cape Town – Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said the sexual offences case backlog was significantly lower in December 2022 compared to cases recorded in December the previous year.
The backlogs stood at 36.9% as at February.
Lamola said 2 844 sexual offence charges were withdrawn and of the 2 797 cases finalised with a verdict, 1 844 cases were finalized with a guilty verdict.
Lamola was however concerned about the high rates of charges being withdrawn.
“It must be noted that the December 2021 period fell within the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic when the restrictions of Covid-19 regulations were still operational.
“This inevitably led to a decline in the number of witnesses and accused persons who came to court and this unfortunately contributed to a higher figure of withdrawn charges.
“However, it should be noted that some cases are subsequently reinstated on the court roll as soon as the challenges that led to the withdrawal of the charges had been resolved,” he said.
Lamola was responding to parliamentary questions from DA MP Werner Horn when he asked the state of about the backlog when it rose from 52% in March 2021 to 81.4% in December 2021.
The minister said the backlog reduction framework has been finalised and was approved in April 2022.
“The framework has been partially implemented,” he said.
Lamola also said the initial phase was implemented with the establishment of the departmental backlogs reduction committee.
“As part of the second phase of implementation and in order to establish a justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) stakeholders’ forum, the department has developed a National Integrated Criminal Court Optimization (NICCO) framework and governance structure that seeks to address challenges to the efficient running of our courts in an integrated criminal justice system manner with the participation of all relevant stakeholder JCPS departments and entities.
“We are currently seeking the approval of the JCPS directors-general Cluster to implement this Framework and Governance Structure which seeks to report to the JCPS directors-general cluster to ensure the responsibility and accountability of all stakeholder departments and entities to optimise the efficiency of our criminal courts.”
He said the provincial heads of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development were meeting with the JCPS role-players at the provincial level, and attending meetings of the Judges president of the provincial efficiency enhancement committees (PEEC) to discuss and unblock any blockages encountered in court performance at provincial level.
“It should also be noted that the percentage of the sexual offences in the criminal court, which are currently on the backlog roll as at the end of February 2023, is at 36.9%.”
Lamola said his department was committed to collaborate with all the relevant stakeholders in the JCPS Cluster as well as the judiciary to reduce the backlogs and improve citizens’ access to speedy and efficient justice.