Ramaphosa signs in new law that ends time limit to prosecute serious crimes
President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into a law a bill that will allow for the prosecution of people suspected of having committed sexual offences, irrespective of when the crime occurred.
The Prescription in Civil and Criminal Matters (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill lifts the prescription that after a particular period of time a victim cannot institute a civil claim or a criminal prosecution.
Certain sexual offences were prescribed, which meant alleged perpetrators could not be prosecuted after 20 years from the time the alleged offence occurred. But now all sexual offences will be excluded from the 20-year time limit.
The bill arises from the June 2018 Constitutional Court judgment that declared section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act to be inconsistent with the constitution.
The section lists crimes that are excluded from the 20-year prescription, and includes rape, compelled rape, murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and several other crimes, but does not include other sexual offences.
“Before, if you sexually assaulted someone but not raped them, no penetration, then you couldn't be charged after 20 years. That has now changed,” explained John Jeffery, the deputy minister of justice, on Tuesday.
“If you murder somebody, you will always run the risk of being charged. However, if you assault somebody, 20 years after you assaulted them, you could not be charged. Not any more,” he said.
Bribery and corruption have been added to the crimes that will be excluded from prescription and the new law will apply to both criminal and civil prescriptions, meaning if you get sexually assaulted you can lay a criminal charge and you can also sue for the sexual assault, explained Jeffery.
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Eight victims of child molestation‚ allegedly perpetrated by the late stockbroker Sidney Frankel‚ attempted to lay criminal charges against him in 2015. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions in Gauteng declined to prosecute because of the time limit.
The so-called Frankel Eight then successfully had section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act declared unconstitutional by the high court in 2018 with judge Claire Hartford ruling that children and adults should be allowed to lay charges of sexual and indecent assault at any time after they were abused.
The eight then approached the Constitutional Court asking it to confirm the lower court's order. They claim the billionaire sexually assaulted them in the 1970s and 1980s‚ when they were aged between seven and 15.
The Frankel Eight also launched a civil case against the Frankel estate.
The two courts suspended the declaration of invalidity for a period of 24 months to allow parliament to cure the constitutional defect.
The Constitutional Court further ordered that during the period of suspension, section 18(f) is to be read as though the words “and all other sexual offences whether in terms of common law or statute” appear in the act.