Home South African Justice minister welcomes four critical reports recommending reforms to SA laws

Justice minister welcomes four critical reports recommending reforms to SA laws

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The reports cover issues which are at the heart of access to justice, the distortion of cultural practices and the ability for claims to be justly adjudicated.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services receives four critical reports from Justice Kollapen which propose recommendations with far-reaching effects for the law and our statute book and – more importantly – will have a significant impact on the lives of South Africans. Picture: Supplied

JUSTICE Minister Ronald Lamola has officially received four critical reports from the South African Law Reform Commission which propose recommendations for law reform in sexual offences, specifically pornography and children, the practice of Ukuthwala, legal fees and prescription periods.

The reports were handed over to Lamola by the chairperson of the South African Law Reform Commission, Justice Jody Kollapen.

Kollapen said the handover of the reports represented an important phase in the completion of the work by the commission in four important areas that not only have far-reaching effects on South African law but which also impact the daily lives of people.

He also took the opportunity to explain that while the process of law reform was time-consuming and may be regarded as slow, it was deliberately so as South Africa was a country that prided itself in proper public consultation.

“So it may be slow but deliberately so in that it seeks to ensure that all diverse voices are heard,” he said.

The reform commission is a bridge between the people and the law. It is tasked with researching all branches of the law in order to make recommendations to the government for the development, improvement, modernisation or reform of the law.

The four reports address various gaps in the law.

The first report, on sexual offences, addresses some of the gaps in the manner in which the law currently regulates and protects children from being exposed to pornography or child sexual abuse material, or from being used to create child sexual abuse material.

Currently, there is a fragmented legislative approach to criminalising certain aspects pertaining to pornography and children. This is exacerbated by the use of new technology resulting in certain forms of harmful behaviour being unregulated.

“More and more of our children are online and this brings with it certain risks – these risks have been exacerbated by Covid-19 as we live our lives even more digitally than before,” Lamola said.

“One of the recommendations is that we adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to prevent, address and investigate child sexual abuse material and that directives and national instructions or standard operating procedures should either be developed or updated with a specific focus on the policing and prosecution of cases relating to child sexual abuse material.”

The commission recommended the inclusion of the Departments of Basic Education, Higher Education and Communications and Digital Technologies in the Inter-sectoral Committee for the Management of Sexual Offence Matters as provided for in the Sexual Offences Act.

The second report investigating legal fees including access to justice and other interventions aimed to address some of the major problems in the civil justice society, including the lengthy time frames it took to resolve legal disputes.

It stated that the system excluded those who could not afford to litigate in the courts. The average time to resolve a legal dispute ranged from three to six years and legal fees have escalated to a point where the majority of people are excluded from the system of dispute resolution, Lamola said.

“The high cost of litigation in both civil and criminal matters is one of the main barriers to access to justice and the questions that must be asked are: What are the factors that give rise to unaffordable legal services? What interventions can be devised to address these challenges in South Africa? This report deals with these questions,” he said.

The third report dealt with the practice of Ukuthwala, which relates to forced marriage.

“The seriousness of problems associated with distorted Ukuthwala is of such a magnitude that a clear and specific piece of legislation is necessary. This will also compel stakeholders to do the necessary to curb the practice and to deal appropriately with victims if such is outlined in law,” Lamola said.

The fourth report addressed certain anomalies in the law which allow creditors, including debt collectors, to recover prescribed debt contrary to the principle of extinction contained in the Prescription Act.

Lamola said the anomalies created by sections 10(3) and 17(1) of the Prescription Act were used by unscrupulous creditors to continue recovering prescribed debt from debtors who have limited or no understanding of the technical nature of prescription.

“These four reports go a long way in analysing systemic problems in our justice system and in society and recommending an appropriate legislative remedy to address these.

“The reports cover issues which are at the heart of access to justice, the distortion of cultural practices and the ability for claims to be justly adjudicated,” Lamola said.

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