GBVF case backlog & victim support: progress report by Police & Justice Ministries

Multi-Party Women’s Caucus

22 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Bilankulu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual meeting, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD ) gave a progress report on the stablishment of sexual offences courts, eliminating Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) case backlogs, and interventions to address areas of dysfunction to ensure successful prosecutions of GBVF cases.

Multi-party Women’s Caucus members asked about the availability of Victim Friendly Rooms (VFR) at police stations and if they are able to cater for victims including those with disabilities; why only 20 police stations would prioritised to receive a VFR from 2022 to 2025. Members noted a concern about the attitude and behaviour of some police officers to GBV victims. They asked about the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) and why so many of the CCTV Sexual Offences System (SOS) were dysfunctional. Members emphasised clearing the DNA test backlogs that delayed court cases and insisted on redoubling efforts to achieve this by 31 December 2022. They spoke about ensuring the provision of rape test kits at police stations and asked about the long delay in moving the KZN Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) to new premises due to its repeated flooding.

Meeting report

South African Police Service (SAPS) briefing
Victim-Friendly Rooms at Police Stations
A victim-friendly room (VFR) must provide an opportunity for victims of intimate violence (gender-based violence, child abuse, sexual offences, and domestic violence) to make their statements in private in a non-threatening environment. The needs of all victims should be considered when a victim-friendly room is equipped.

- VFRs must have an inventory to keep a record of all equipment/furniture provided by SAPS and an asset register for assets/equipment acquired through donations.
- VFRs must not be situated in close proximity to police cells or in noisy or busy areas.
- No VFR may be used for any other purpose than victim support services.
- VFRs can be discreetly decorated and painted to create a calm and relaxing atmosphere.
- VFRs may not be used as sleeping-over facilities and should not be equipped as such.

If there is a need to provide overnight accommodation, arrangements must be made with nearby shelters and the Department of Social Development (DSD). The involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in this regard, is permitted only if they are working in close cooperation with SAPS and DSD. The functioning and management of VFRs at police stations will always remain the responsibility of SAPS and other departments and/or NGOs will only render support services.

SAPS training on GBVF
There are two categories of training
• Proactive GBVF-related training with the following learning programmes:
- Dignity, Diversity and Policing (which is a new course).
- Human Rights and Policing.
- Victim Empowerment Training Programme.
- Children and Youth at Risk.
- First Responder to Sexual Offences Learning Programme.

• Reactive GBVF-related training with the following learning programmes:
- Vulnerable Group (Entry Level).
- Vulnerable Group (Post Basic).
- Basic Course in Hostage and Suicide Negotiation.
- Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Learning Programme.
- Domestic Violence Learning Programme amongst others.

Forensic Science Laboratory initiatives to restore normal functioning
The capacitation of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) with adequate personnel and additional equipment to meet the demand was discussed. Critical positions at the senior management level were filled. These vacancies were filled, Component Head: Major General TL Mulaudzi and Section Head Biology: Brigadier FE Hlalele. A total of 73 personnel (47 interns and 26 contractors) are still being utilised; with an intention of absorbing into the work stream prior to the end of the term contract in December 2022. The absorption process is at an advanced stage. An additional 34 forensic analysts to capacitate the capacitate Eastern Cape DNA expansion (28) and Western Cape Biology (6), will be added shortly. Additional equipment procured included thermoshakers, centrifuges and genetic analysers.

DNA backlog progress report
The “Finalisation Rate” which is reflected in percentages, represents entries registered versus entries finalised per quarter, including those on hand which are backlogged:
- A finalization rate above 100% indicates that backlogged entries are also being finalised.
- This approach is used for monitoring until such time as the backlog is eradicated.
The finalisation rate has increased progressively from 21.48% in Q1 2021/22 to 160.75% in Q1 2022/23 and currently is at 180.22%. The backlog status was 241 152 in Q1 2021/2022 and 143 795 in Q1 2022/23, which is a reduction of 40.37%. Currently, the backlog status is at 88 374 as of 2 September which is a reduction of 38.54% from Q1.

Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act 2013 implementation
The National Forensic DNA Database (NFDD) was established in terms of the Act and has been successfully used as an investigative tool in the identification of rapists and murderers. The NFDD has a maturity (number of forensic DNA profiles loaded) of 1 016 837 active forensic DNA profiles.

Since the inception of the Act to date, comparison searches on the NFDD have yielded:
- 15 043 DNA person-to-crime (known person) forensic DNA investigative leads.
- 8 738 DNA Crime-to-crime (unknown persons) forensic DNA investigative leads.

SAPS has trained 41 650 authorised persons to take buccal samples.

Deputy Minister of Justice remarks
Mr John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, noted there have been Sexual Offences Courts since the early 2000s but they had been at a regional or high court level, never at a district level. There was not an initial buy-in into the idea as magistrates said dealing with only those cases would be traumatic and so wanted them to be mixed in with other kinds of cases. The then Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe set up the Ministerial Advisory Technical Task Team Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO) which came up with a report in 2013/14 that Sexual Offences Courts should be established and set out the minimum standards needed. Different regional courts were equipped year by year. Parliament in 2015 made an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act to provide for the establishment of the courts and for the Minister to providefor the regulation of the courts.

There was then an issue with the designation as the intention of Parliament was for the establishment of certain seats so members of the public could know about Sexual Offences Courts and what additional resources could they expect from them. The problem is the wording of section 55A only allows the Minister to designate one regional court per province. The problem with this is that it is not going to give people an idea which court has the facilities for their specific issue.

Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD ) briefing
Adv Praise Kambula, DoJ&CD Chief Director: Vulnerable Groups, said sexual offences courts are home-grown. In 2018 there was a march by women giving the President 24 demands, There was also the 2019 GBVF Presidential Summit that noted the courts must be backed up by legislation to address legislative gaps. When these demands came through, this was something that was already being worked on. With effect from 2020, there is now section 55A in the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act which gives recognition to these courts and its regulations to provide the catalogue of resources that should be part of these courts.

The Declaration of the Presidential Summit against GBVF recognised the need for adequate resourcing of Thuthuzela Care Centres, sexual offences courts and shelters for survivors of sexual offences and violence.

Section 55A(1) of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 states: Subject to subsection (2), the Minister may by notice in the Gazette designate any- (a) Division of the High Court of South Africa or the main seat or any local seat of a Division referred to in section 6 of the Superior Courts Act, 2013; or
(b) Magistrate’s Court, as defined in section 1 of the Superior Courts’ Act, 2013, at which a sexual offences court must be established.

Effectively this provision empowers the Minister to designate the courts where they must be. The provision also recognises that other courts have jurisdiction to deal with such matters. As the Deputy Minister outlined there are issues with the interpretation of section 55A but this does not mean that there are no courts that deal with sexual offences. In February 2020 there was a total of 106 Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO) courts and the courts are still offering those services. In the country, there is a total of 299 courts that have the capacity to hear sexual offences cases. The designation process does not hinder a court's ability to process these matters.

Important to note, the MATTSO courts were subsequently reduced to 102 by 31 Mar 2020 due to low caseloads detected at four courts. All courts upgraded after the date of commencement of section 55A of the Act (Feb 2020) are classified as courts resourced in terms of the Regulations relating to Sexual Offences Courts, and will function as section 55A SOCs as soon as the designation process is finalised.

Section 55A(5) of the Act does not preclude a court with jurisdiction from dealing with sexual offences matters if it has not been established as a SOC.
- All 299 courts attached to regional divisions, including the MATTSO courts, are currently dealing with sexual offences matters. Therefore the pending designation process does not hinder any of these courts from hearing sexual offences matters.
- 102 of 299 courts provide a catalogue of victim-support services.
- In 2020/21, the Minister approved the National Guidelines for the Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts with a Regulations Resource Checklist, developed by the DoJ &CD, NPA, Legal Aid SA and the Judiciary. In 2021/22 80 courts were resourced in terms of the SOC Regulations and National Guidelines.
- In Mar 2022 a letter of concurrence for the designation of courts where SOCs will be established was received from the Chief Justice, in compliance with the Act.
- Through the regulations there was a move to bring a total of 83 courts into regulation.

Backlog Cases of Sexual Offences: 1 April 2022 - 31 July 2022
There are 16 781 pending cases. Of this total, 6 026 cases are backlog cases. 1 994 cases out of 2 673 were finalised with convictions. There is currently a conviction rate of 74.6% as per the NPA. The outstanding DNA reports are adding more pressure to the volume of backlog cases.

Currently there is no specific crime called GBV and so the Department collects data on sexual offences and domestic violence matters, whilst the NPA collects prosecution outputs in sexual offences and GBV-related femicide cases. The management of backlog cases will therefore focus on these offences for the period 1 April to 31 August 2022.

In 2021/22, the Deputy Ministers of Justice and Police set up a collaborative project between NPA and SAPS to eliminate the backlog in DNA reports. In 2021/22, the NPA received 7 618 DNA reports for sexual offences cases. The project is still in progress.

Registered criminal cases of domestic violence stand at 6 856. Of this total, 348 are backlog cases. 284 GBV-related femicide cases were finalised with a verdict, 271 of 284 cases of GVB-related femicide finalised with a conviction. 221 verdicts were handed down in intimate partner femicide cases with 206 of the 221 finalised with a conviction. A 93.2% conviction rate was achieved in intimate partner femicide cases per NPA.

DoJ&CD has developed a Criminal Case Backlog Action Plan, which gives priority to GBVF-related matters. The implementation of this Plan is monitored by the Criminal Case Backlog Committee which meets every month. DoJ&CD also created an Annual Performance Plan (APP) indicator on backlog case management for further monitoring purposes. It must, however, be noted that the core drivers for case backlogs are contributed by different criminal justice system (CJS) actors, so resolving this issue would require collaboration by all relevant actors. For this reason, with the support of the Ministry, the DoJ&CD is in the process of establishing the National Integrated Criminal Court Optimisation Steering Committee (NICCO SteerCO) where all key actors will participate.

Minister of Police summary highlights
Minister of Police Bheki Cele made an emphasis on the points made in the presentation. The backlog as of today is coming to an end. It is hard to say how things got to where they are right now but it is not something that is going to continue in the future.

On the contracts, what needs to be done now is to ensure that contracts are renewed. It is important to ensure that capacity is maintained at all times. This includes the machinery used at the labs. On an inspection visit to the labs, it was found that the equipment was not working because it is not being properly maintained. This has been changed and has helped especially in Western Cape and Gauteng laboratories. Acquiring the right chemicals on time has also been amped sufficiently to ensure that there is enough to keep the work going.

Human capacity: It was found that in the Western Cape alone 20 interns were let go because they are from Khayelitsha. Four of them could not come back because they had other jobs but they are still noted in the system. Eight of them have been absorbed back into the system.

Backlog: Latest by December 2022, it is believed that the backlog will be cleared and they will be working on day-to-day submissions. The Eastern Cape laboratory will be fully functional – it has been under construction for the past two years. Once this has been completed it means that Eastern Cape will be able to process its own samples which will ease the burden on the Western Cape as it has been responsible for Eastern Cape samples. The main problem right now is the capacity in KZN. The issue is with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) as it is supposed to be building the new lab. The FSL building in Amanzimtoti has flooded four times. As the rainy season is coming, the building will flood again. A request for the lab to be moved has been put forward but there has been slow progress by DPWI. Some of the KZN workload including machinery has been moved to the Western Cape. The Eastern Cape will also assist if need be.

Training: There are people that will be placed in police stations who are able to deal with survivors so they can be dealt with by people who understand their pain. There are 337 students in college that are being trained to boost capacity. There are 200 BSc students that are in training to boost capacity in laboratories to ensure that capacity is kept and does not get back to the state that it was in before. As mentioned there are still gaps that lead to fingers being pointed instead of fixing the problems. However, there needs to be a sit-down to create a seamless movement from point A to point B.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) spoke about the Victim Friendly Rooms in police stations, which is a much-appreciated move from the Department. She understands that there will be police training on these victim-friendly rooms, but can there be a change in attitude by police officers as they tend to worsen the ordeal through their negative outlook and sometimes even laugh at people reporting this. While these rooms are welcomed, personnel need to be trained how to deal with victims properly. Can there be a debrief in six months to see if the effort put into training police officers is paying off? Positively assisting victims need to be noted as it is progress. She also mentioned people being raped in police stations by police themselves. She asked about degree of accountability if cases are reported of police negligence and unwillingness to deal properly with people. Who should be contacted about backlog cases where DNA evidence has not been processed?

Ms N Sharif (DA) noted the need to absorb contracted people who have been working and who have experience and knowledge of the work. Often much time is spent on training new people and capacitating them, essentially denying justice to the people on the ground. Why has it taken so long to fix the Amanzimtoti Forensic Science Laboratory when this is so important? The Minister will be held to clearing the backlog by December to ensure that it happens.

She expressed concern as the numbers seem too low. The reduction of the backlog seems to be taking too long. Even though there are attempts to catch up, violence against women in this country is so bad that there are hundreds of cases every day from domestic violence, sexual assault and violence against children. Even though there is work on catching up backlog, the rate at which that is being done is too slow.

SAPS mentioned that they work with NGOs. How many NGOs are they working with? A breakdown per province would be appreciated. The number of VRFs that will be established from 2022 to 2025 seems too low. There are 20 that will be prioritised. That number is too little and she would like to find out why.

The number of provision stores in the Western Cape and KZN is low. If there are no provision stores SAPS is unable to make use of rape kits for cases. What is the proactive plan to ensure that there are enough available? Will it be possible for SAPS to provide a list of the police stations that do not have rape test kits currently? What plan is in place to address that moving forward?

It is good to see that training is a priority – being more relevant and important. She agreed that training is the cornerstone to tackling GBV especially when it comes to frontline workers. How many active SAPS members are there so that she could have comparative numbers to base that on? What accounts for the numbers dropping; the reason for SAPS members being declared incompetent in comparison to those that have signed up for the course? She asked for timelines on the DNA backlogs as the presentation stated: ‘to be reduced shortly’. What does shortly mean? How far is the requests by courts for DNA in outstanding cases?

The numbers are confusing for Sexual Offences Courts (SOCs) as it stated there are no SOCs but then it state there are 299 courts working on sexual offences and 83 of these are regulations compliant. There is mention of 51 Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) – what about the other nine? What services are being presented for persons with disabilities and are there enough interpreters to assist? How many survivors make use of the post-trial emotional containment? Trauma is something that many South Africans are dealing with especially because people do not have access to mental health services. Gender-based violence and femicide is a pandemic in the country so she needs clarity on the numbers that have been presented. Can the Caucus get a presentation on the backlog? She is worried about the dysfunctional CCTV Sexual Offences System (SOS) and the backlog because the main concern is the backlog leads to delays in cases which means that perpetrators can victimise again. If there is no urgency to ensure the SOS is functional then justice is denied. She implored the Deputy Minister to ensure they come up with a plan to ensure that justice is not denied.

Ms M Semenya (ANC) welcomed the progress that had been made by the Minister. It is impressive that we are now moving to a point where we are closing the gap.

On informing families, Ms Semenya said she has two cases - one in her constituency as well one in her family. One was killed and the other beaten and later on died. In both cases, the police have never interacted with the respective families. Although it might be the work of social workers to do the talking, the police should be leading the conversation particularly if the perpetrator has not been arrested. How do you make people believe in the process of government?

There needs to be a link between the community policing forums and SAPS so that there can be feedback brought back to communities in affected areas.

The Chairperson asked SAPS if the personnel in VFRs are able to cater for disabilities such as sign language for survivors with hearing challenges. On resources in police stations, is there a plan within SAPS to deal with non compliance when it comes to collecting evidence such as compulsory DNA sampling for those accused of committing Schedule 8 offences? Lastly, she asked if laboratories have the capacity to speed up DNA testing.

SAPS response
Minister of Police Bheki Cele replied that the Department is not there yet when it comes to capacitating SAPS members at all levels. Training has been pushed at station level because GBV has been dealt with without taking into account the trauma and the emotional upheaval that the survivor is facing. One thing he can say is that when it comes to accommodating disabilities, the programme is not there yet. However, people who have that skill set have been invited to be a part of the programme. At the moment the police stations that are prioritised are the ones that have the most GBV cases. So it is not all police stations although that it the goal.

Minister Cele said he was impressed with what he saw at Alexandra police station when the eight girls from Alexandra Township were raped in Krugersdorp. There was a VFR, a doctor’s room and a social worker’s room. Of course, we’re far from that in general; however, it does represent the idyllic state for all police stations.

There is consequence management for those who mistreat survivors. Those who misbehave do not belong in uniform and they are kicked out of SAPS. On whom to contact when one has an issue with delayed DNA diagnostics, these contact numbers will be made available to Members of the Caucus. There is a directory for every police station in South Africa. Unfortunately some of the contacts have left but the directory does exist where one would even be able to know who the station commander is in each police station. Consequence management should be expeditious while fair to those affected. Although consequence management is important, more emphasis should be placed on training so that we can ensure that SAPS members are part of the solution instead of causing fear. Of course, there will be those who not fully on board with the programme and they will face the consequences of doing so.

On the Amanzimtoti lab, it is not for SAPS to deal with moving the lab to new premises. The site has been identified but it is dependent on the Department of Public Works to effect that move. As a result of the floods some of the machinery had broken down and the necessary chemicals had spoiled as a result. That is why some of the work has been moved to the Western Cape to keep the work going as the KZN lab is underutilised. The actual move is dependent on Public Works to sign leases and to convert building space so that it can be turned into labs. There have been joint meetings with the Portfolio Committees of Public Works and the Police to deal with this challenge. It is not just labs that are an issue with DPWI; it is also police station maintenance and the need to make them safer as well as CCTVs that need to be dealt with. Generally, these challenges are due to DPWI not making use of the funding that is meant for SAPS capital works and maintenance.

In dealing with the backlog the Department is no longer working eight-hour shifts, it is now working 16-hour shifts on overtime in an attempt to catch up the backlog. There is a look out for even more funds for operations to be 24 hours so that no time is wasted. When it comes to the lack of DNA sample kits, there are two reasons for this. There are supply constraints. The supply can only provide so many samples at a time. As a result, the Department has now started to look at whether it can spread supply to the provinces. The only issue with that is quality. It will be harder to ensure that everything is of good quality for use. Also if you overbuy you may have an issue with expiry dates. So it is a balancing act to ensure that there is good quality but also that we do not entirely run out of DNA sample kits at police stations. There are 14 795 cases that are ready but they are short only of the DNA results. When there is request for a certain one to be expedited, that is done.

Minister Cele said he wanted to address case withdrawals. He mentioned a case where he was phoned by a lady from Durban at 2:00 in the morning who was crying in a police station. Luckily the Minister was also in KZN so he drove to that police station and was hard on the officers there to assist the lady. She was taken to the hospital. Two weeks later the Minister called in for an update on the case and was informed that the lady had dropped the case. This happens all the time. Two months ago there was a similar SOS from a lady in Mamelodi who was beaten badly but had dropped her case. She had moved out of her home because her parents had pressured her to drop it. There are too many cases where victims are victimised by their own families. This is something that public representatives can work on with families and communities. Social mobilisation is going to be key. In the last quarter of 2020/21 10 000 women were raped in South Africa and exactly 50% of them were raped in their households. Law enforcement must act swiftly; however, for that to be done well there is going to be a need for social mobilisation to be able to deal with the matter.

SAPS National Police Commissioner Lt Gen Fannie Masemola commented on the attitude of police officers saying there is varied training provided to officers to ensure that they comply. Stock 'on hand' means that these are issues that are still going to be addressed ‘’that which you are still going to work on’’.

Gen Hangwani Mulaudzi, SAPS: Head of Communication, added that ‘on hand’ refers to the total cases nationally including both new and backlog cases. It is a way of ensuring that there is no going back to a place where there is a continuously accumulating backlog. In summary, the 125 cases are a combination of old cases as well as the backlog.

Lt Gen Mohlala, Divisional Commissioner: Visible Policing and Operations, replied that SAPS together with the Department of Social Development is working with NGOs like Deaf SA to assist in dealing with survivors with disabilities. Officers are also receiving training to ensure that as frontline workers they are able to assist survivors with disabilities.

Community Policing Forums (CPFs) are very much welcomed. A good example of this is in Gauteng where there are GBV Brigades that has been formed by CPF members. This programme has worked very well. The Department is looking into these best practices to ensure that these can be spread across the country to other provinces.

DoJ&CD response
Adv Kambula gave clarity on the numbers in the presentation. In South Africa there are 299 regional courts which have jurisdiction to deal with sexual offences matters. Of the 299, there are 102 MATTSO courts which provide the support that is needed to victims of sexual offences. The MATTSO model was used to develop regulations so that they can accommodate diversified needs like disabilities, older persons and so on. Then there was a drive to align courts with the regulations which have specified criteria for what is needed for a court to be classified as an SOC. There are 83 courts that have been aligned so that once there has been a designation, they can be called a Section 55A SOC.

When it comes to a disability-centric measure, there is a set of standards for reasonable accommodation that is in line with service standards. The disability service model focuses on four things: language accessibility to ensure accredited sign language interpreters as well as lip readers for those who do not understand sign language. This work is done with Disabled People Organisation as well as Deaf SA. Deaf SA has asked for an MOU with the Department to ensure that a close relationship is maintained. Braille has been developed for those who are visually impaired. The main issue with this is that court officials place heavy objects on top of them which affects its integrity. In general, however, Braille is there, even the Constitution has been converted into Braille. A court that is compliant has all these resources. Guide dogs have also been included. There is signage in courts on where they can be kept as well as other service animals, as it is not just guide dogs that are needed. The Criminal Matters Amendment Act allows gesture language to be considered for viva voce oral evidence for people who lack the ability to speak to be expressive and use non-verbal language so that we are accommodative to those who cannot communicate using accredited sign language. There are also ramps for wheelchair accessibility. There are some courts that have voice command lifts to allow for accessibility although this is a pipeline dream. There are two modules that have been developed for those who provide intermediary services. They both have sections on how to deal with victims with mental disabilities such as those who are on the autism spectrum. A compliant court will also have a reasonable accommodation coordinator which are people who ensure that service points are sensitive to people who have disabilities.

There has been a revamp of Thuthuzela Care Centres where service has been extended beyond just survivors of sexual offences but also other offences like GBV. The goal is to tighten the referral system between the centres and the SOCs and to align these centres with the SOCs. There are currently 60 TCCs around the country.

On convictions, DoJ&CD will request the NPA to respond in writing on that.

On the broken CCTV SOS, there is a monitoring committee to ensure that the systems are up and running.

Ms Sharif repeated her question on why only 20 police stations are being prioritised.

SAPS National Police Commissioner Lt Gen Fannie Masemola explained that there is an agreement between SAPS and Public Works that they would build VFRs on behalf of SAPS. In June 2022 a decision has since been taken that SAPS has permission to build the VFRs. There are various items that SAPS has to expedite to ensure that these are built soon – first land acquisition and approval of municipal plans. Based on this it seems that SAPS may be able to build 20 but it also may build more. If one looks at the traditional processes one has to follow the anticipation is that 20 will be built. Other stakeholders are involved to assist in how to overcome these building challenges.

Ms Sharif thanked the officials for the comprehensive answers.

The meeting was adjourned.

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