Barbara Maregele

SEXUAL assault charges against a suspended teacher were temporarily withdrawn in the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court yesterday pending the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling on the amended Sexual Offences Act.

As no penalties were prescribed in the act enforced in December 2009, sexual offences cases prosecuted since and those pending were left in the hands of the courts to impose sentences.

These include charges of: compelled rape, sexual assault, compelled self-sexual assault, “flashing”, incest, displaying child pornography, engaging in prostitution and forms of statutory rape.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the Western Cape was granted leave to appeal against a Western Cape High Court judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The NPA has advised police not to make any arrests in these cases. They were instructed to open case dockets and forward these to senior prosecutors, who will see whether other substantial charges can be used to substitute the offence and if the matter has proceeded to trial, the prosecutor can request a two-month postponement.

This judgment is expected today.

Yesterday, Robert van Eeden, 46, made a brief appearance in court after he was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting three pupils by “inappropriately hugging” them earlier this year.

He was granted R1 000 bail on March 14.

In court, magistrate Gerald Hattingh withdrew the charges against Van Eeden .

“At this stage there is nothing we can do. Whether or not (Van Eeden) can be charged again is a decision for the Supreme Court,” he said.

Hattingh advised his lawyer, Andre de Klerk, to consult with the senior prosecutor regarding the possibility that Van Eeden could face these charges again.

Outside court, Van Eeden told the Cape Times: “I just want this to come to an end so I can continue with my life, but at the moment I still don’t know what will happen.”

Meanwhile, Women’s Legal Centre attorney, Sanja Bornman, said trauma for the victims involved in these withdrawn cases could be devastating.

“The period between the High Court judgment on May 11 and the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment expected by (today) left a lot of room for uncertainty, especially for the victims. The psychological trauma this may have on a young child could be overwhelming,” she said.

Bornman said while they were not happy about the interim plan, they believed the NPA did the “responsible thing” to avoid the State being responsible for prosecuting something that the High Court has said does not exist in law.

The city’s Rape Crisis director Kathleen Dey said their court support services experienced an increase during the past month.

“As every trial has an emotional aspect to it, we have seen more survivors and their relatives seeking support after cases affected by the penalty clause,” she said.

Dey commended the government on their “speedy response” to handling the appeal.