Online applications in the pipeline for protection orders, divorces: Lamola
New laws that will provide for online applications for uncontested divorces, child maintenance and protection orders for victims of domestic violence are in the pipeline.
The government also wants to introduce a special monitoring system to track gender-based violence.
These are some of the reforms that justice minister Ronald Lamola told parliament would be introduced as part of the new proposed laws to be tabled next month.
Lamola said the justice department will be introducing three bills: to amend the National Sexual Offenders Register and the Domestic Violence Act, and to regulate bail conditions for people who are accused of committing a sexual offence.
The government has also resolved to introduce Femicide Watch, a special monitoring system to highlight and track violent crimes committed against women. This, he said, would be introduced before the end of March 2021.
“The criminal justice system must be able to respond with the required level of sensitivity to the most vulnerable in society. It must continue to place victims at the centre,” he said.
Lamola, who has previously announced plans to modernise the justice system, said Covid-19 has laid bare missed opportunities over the past years to upgrade the system in order to have a direct bearing on how people, particularly working-class communities, can access the system.
“To this end, I am pleased that our Domestic Violence Bill will introduce modernisation in a radical form. If passed, our Domestic Violence Bill will make it possible for one to apply for a protection order online. This will be a leap forward in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide,” he said.
Our Domestic Violence Bill will make it possible for one to apply for a protection order online. This will be a leap forward in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide.Ronald Lamola
“This is the first of several reforms we want to introduce. For instance, there is no reason why uncontested divorce applications and maintenance applications cannot be done online,” he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently characterised gender-based violence as the second pandemic that the country has to contend with.
Lamola said in the period between April 2019 and March this year, his department unveiled 13 sexual offences courts across the country, which are victim-centric in nature.
The modernisation project has also seen a rollout of the Person Identification and Verification Application system, which is located at police stations and enables the identity of arrested individuals to be verified using their fingerprints and checked against the department of home affairs records.
Lamola said more than 227,098 accused persons have been verified via this system and over 135,968 of these individuals [60%] had prior criminal records that could be referenced. A further 6,205 wanted persons could be identified and linked to SAPS circulations as persons of interest for other cases, he said.
“This timely information is assisting SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA] during the subsequent management of accused persons and provides data to assist bail considerations,” he said.
“As at March 2020, the South African Social Security Services [Sassa] had verified 154,974 beneficiaries.”
The minister said the budget vote he was presenting to parliament for approval sought to make the criminal justice system accessible and effective.
The total departmental budget for 2020/2021 financial year was reduced by R416m from R22.4bn to R21.9bn. This cut consisted of:
- R111m on compensation of employees;
- R122m on court infrastructure;
- R150m from the NPA;
- R10m from the Special Investigative Unit; and
- R23m from Legal Aid SA.
In the revised budget allocation, R130m was allocated to the state capture commission and R334m is earmarked through savings for Covid-19 related expenditure, such as PPE procurement and decontamination of offices and justice service points.
Lamola said the departmental focus and impetus on modernisation, digitisation and business continuity challenges during the Covid-19 period necessitated the revision and increasing the budget for information technology and modernisation from R529m to R663m, supplemented with a further planned expenditure of R688m on the integrated justice system programme.
He said to ensure maintenance of buildings and infrastructure, an amount of R64m had been allocated to day-to-day maintenance of courts and R24.4m set aside for upgrading justice infrastructure.
The budget being tabled makes provision for allocations to entities under the control of the justice ministry, specifically:
- Legal Aid SA is allocated R2bn,
- Special Investigations Unit — R442m;
- Public protector — R333m; and
- the Human Rights Commission — R200m.