The DA plans to introduce a private member’s bill it believes will “strengthen the powers granted to courts and the SAPS to provide essential safeguards” to the most vulnerable amid the recent spate of femicide and rape.
“The country needs urgent, clear and decisive action that goes further than jailing perpetrators and that addresses the root causes of the social and moral collapse,” DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“We also need strong leadership both in the government as well as in the form of a parliament that makes effective legislative decisions.”
DA MP on the portfolio committee on justice Werner Horn said: “We intend to introduce a private member’s bill that will strengthen the powers granted to courts and the SAPS to provide essential safeguards and make sure that the rights of the society’s most vulnerable are protected.”
He added the bill would address legislative gaps and shortfalls and contain “innovative measures” that have proved successful in other countries.
The bill will contain the following nine key proposals:
- Using more inclusive terminology – for example changing “domestic violence” to “domestic abuse”. “This recognises that not all abuse is violent and that the threshold for receiving protection does not, in fact, require an act of physical violence to have taken place,” Horn said.
- Using plain English to make the bill more accessible.
- Providing for a single, defined process of applying for and obtaining an order from the courts protecting against various forms of interpersonal and domestic abuse, that may include acts of bullying or stalking.
- Ensuring the speedy service and enforcement of protection orders to ensure that victims are immediately protected after a protection order is granted. This is to avoid lengthy delays caused by backlogs and the lack of police capacity.
- Directing the minister of justice to issue rules that guide the process to be followed by the court, including the burden of proof and leading of evidence. “Currently, there are many grey areas as far as the court procedure is concerned, and this has resulted in inconsistent application across different courts and provinces, and between different presiding officers,” Horn said.
- Ensuring that court staff dealing with domestic abuse are properly trained, and that experienced and legally trained court officials are available to assist parties in a case, particularly where one or both of the parties are not legally represented to ensure that nobody’s rights are unduly infringed on.
- Placing a duty on all legal practitioners to act as a point of first contact for a victim of abuse by advising them on their basic rights and remedies without charging for this consultation.
- Creating a central online register of domestic violence court orders and applications to ensure that a court in one city or town can easily access an order granted by a court in a different city or town.
- Creating specific offences for those who fail to assist victims of domestic abuse per the duties placed on them by the act, such as police officers or court officials. “This will see negligence in the execution of duty has serious consequences as a breach of the trust placed in public officials by the most vulnerable in our society,” Horn said.
The bill would replace the Domestic Violence Act and the Protection from Harassment Act. Horn intends to have it introduced to parliament by the end of the year.
Besides the private member’s bill, the DA has also written to President Cyril Ramaphosa for a “bipartisan meeting”, and have asked him to establish a special task team to review the criminal justice system.
The DA also wrote to Police Minister Bheki Cele to request that he send the Draft Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Bill to parliament as a matter of urgency. This draft bill will allow for DNA samples to continue to be taken from offenders convicted in terms of Schedule 8 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which includes sexual offenders.
Ramaphosa, meanwhile, has called a special joint sitting in parliament on Wednesday aimed at tackling a way forward with regards to gender-based violence.
His address and subsequent debate will begin at 14.00pm.