Dear colleagues and students
Last year provided some challenging moments for all of us at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and for the country at large. It was a year that shone the spotlight on the societal scourge of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in our country and spurred a national movement to change the gruesome reality that we all face. This renewed and determined focus on the need for support for SGBV survivors is in part the reason we launched the sexual offences ad hoc tribunal (AHT) in September 2019 while we are developing a more permanent and formal specialised structure to deal with sexual offences.
The AHT was put in place to expedite sexual offences and to deal with the backlog of cases of alleged sexual offences.
Since beginning its work, the AHT has considered two categories of cases: 36 that were inherited from the Legal Services Office, and a further 32 that were reported since it came into effect.
Of the 36 backlogged cases reported in the preceding years prior to the establishment of the AHT, 20 have been finalised and are off the tribunal court roll. The rest are ready to proceed to trial. Of the 32 cases that were reported post the establishment of the AHT, 11 are trial ready (pre-hearings have been concluded).
Noting that there was a period during which cases could not progress due to both the year-end examinations and the vacation period, the AHT has made considerable progress on cases in a short space of time.
The objectives of the AHT are, among others, to ensure that the process is survivor-centred and streamlined, and that it uses appropriately qualified and skilled staff in the assessment of cases. The AHT also aims to ensure that the entire process is compliant with internal policies, external legislation and policy obligations in synergy with the rights of the accused.
One of the most significant outcomes of the AHT has been the constant engagement with survivors. In the past this was a challenge as the disciplinary system, which handled all types of cases, left little room for focused attention.
Additionally, the AHT introduced the use of alternative methods of leading evidence. For example, in one case the complainant provided evidence via a Skype audio link. The outcome was a conviction and sentence. The addition of assessors with a background in SGBV has helped to ensure that a more survivor-centred process is followed.
However, we recognise that there are still challenges, most notably the non-availability of all parties to participate in proceedings. We are trying to find solutions and hope to finalise the more permanent structure in the months to come. We are committed to a UCT environment that is welcoming and safe for all and encourage anyone who is experiencing discrimination – whether sexual or otherwise – to report it to the relevant structures.
Professor Loretta Feris
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Transformation
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