The Service Charter for Victims of Crime in South Africa (Victims’ Charter) strives to obtain justice for all. The Victims’ Charter stands in the spirit of the Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, 1985 (GA/RES/40/34).
Since 1994, and in keeping with a human rights culture, the focus has gradually shifted from a justice system in which victim and offender were regarded as adversaries and the goal was retribution, to a system of restorative justice. The essence of the concept of restorative justice is the recognition of crime not just as an offence against the State, but also as an unlawful act or injustice done to another person.
The ultimate goal is victim empowerment through meeting the victims’ needs, be they material or emotional. The Victims’ Charter and the Minimum Standards elaborate on and consolidate the rights and obligations relating to services applicable to victims and survivors of crime in South Africa. This is in accordance with the stipulations of section 234 of the Constitution.
When a crime is committed and reported to the SAPS, it sets the criminal justice system in motion. the SAPS must investigate offences and bring offenders to book. As soon as a complaint has been laid, the police open a dossier and investigate the complaint. If the police are unsure whether to prosecute, a formal complaint would not be brought immediately. The police will first investigate such a case and submit the dossier to the public prosecutor for a decision.
From the moment a crime has been committed and reported, it is important that all available evidence must be collected and protected in such a way that it will assist in the investigation of the case and the ensuing trial. Injuries sustained by the crime victim or damage that he/she suffered, could validate evidence against the accused. A medical report must be compiled and submitted where applicable.
When a person is accused of an offence, the case is referred to the court, where the public prosecutor takes responsibility for the prosecution in the case.
Purpose of minimum standards
The minimum standards for services to victims of crime is an information document that further explains the rights of victims as set out in the Victims’ Charter. It provides information on the government’s commitment to better service delivery to victims of crime. The standards not only outline basic rights and principles, but also provide detailed information to enable victims of crime to exercise their rights and assist service providers in upholding those rights. The minimum standards help to hold everyone involved in the criminal justice system accountable, ensuring that victims receive appropriate assistance and services.
ppropriate assistance and services. When a person reports an offence and gives evidence in court, it plays a crucial role to fine-tune the criminal justice system to the needs of society and to ensure that offenders are brought to book. In turn the criminal justice system must react courteously and quickly, treat complainants with respect for their dignity and privacy and satisfy their needs. The minimum standards are an attempt to ensure that this comes to pass, by empowering people and providing adequate information to enable people to exercise their rights.
A victim of crime can thus expect the role players in the criminal justice system to ensure that the rights set out in the Victims’ Charter are enforced.
Minimum standards Minimum standards for services to victims of crime include:
- the right to be treated fairly and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy
- the right to offer information
- the right to receive information
- the right to protection
- the right to assistance
- the right to compensation
- the right to restoration.
Rights of a victim of crime
Rights of victims of crime, as set out in the Constitution and relevant legislation, must be upheld in their contact with the criminal justice system as follows:
The right to be treated with respect for your dignity and privacy
- You have the right to be attended to promptly and courteously, with respect for your dignity and privacy, by all members of any department, institution, agency or organisation providing a service directly or indirectly to you (hereafter referred to as service providers).
- The police, during investigations, the prosecutors and court officials during preparation for and during the trial proceedings, as well as all other service providers, must take measures to minimise any inconvenience to you by, among others, conducting interviews with you in your preferred language and in private, if necessary.
- These measures will prevent you from being subjected to secondary victimisation
The right to offer information
- You have the right to offer information during the criminal investigation and trial.
- The police, prosecutor and correctional services official must take measures to ensure that any contribution that you wish to make to the investigation, prosecution and parole hearing, is heard and considered when deciding on whether to proceed with the investigation, or in the course of the prosecution or parole board hearing.
- This right means that you can participate (if necessary and where possible) in criminal justice proceedings, by attending the bail hearing, the trial, sentencing proceedings and/or parole board hearing.
- This means that you will have the opportunity to make a further statement to the police if you realise that your first statement is incomplete; you may also, where appropriate, make a statement to the court or give evidence during the sentencing proceedings to bring the seriousness of the crime to the court’s attention.
- Furthermore, you may make a written application to the chairperson of the parole board to attend the parole hearing and submit written input.
The right to receive information
- You have the right to be informed of your rights and of how to exercise them.
- You can, as part of this right, ask for explanations in your own language of anything you do not understand.
- You have the right to receive information and to be informed of all relevant services available to you by service providers.
- You will be informed of your role in the case and of the approximate duration of the case. You can request information regarding court dates, witness fees and the witness protection programme.
- You can request to be informed of the status of the case, whether or not the offender has been arrested, charged, granted bail, indicted, convicted, or sentenced.
- You may request reasons for a decision that has been taken in your case on whether or not to prosecute.
- You are entitled to receive documents that the law entitles you to have access to.
- You can request to receive notification of proceedings which you may attend.
- You can request the prosecutor to notify your employer of any proceedings which necessitate your absence from work.
The right to protection
- You have the right to be free from intimidation, harassment, fear, tampering, bribery, corruption and abuse. If you are a witness, you must report any such threats to the police or senior state prosecutor.
- The police will, if you comply with certain requirements, apply for you to be placed in a witness protection programme.
- If such an application is successful, you will be placed in a witness protection programme where you will be protected, as far as possible, from all forms of undue influence, harassment or intimidation.
- This will ensure your safety as a witness and the availability of your testimony, and prevent you from withdrawing from giving evidence as a result of undue influence.
- This right includes that in certain circumstances the court may prohibit the publication of any information (including your identity), or it may order that the trial be held behind closed doors (in camera).
- You may request Correctional Services to inform you if the offender has escaped or has been transferred.
The right to assistance
- You have the right to request assistance and, where relevant, have access to available social, health and counselling services, as well as legal assistance which is responsive to your needs.
- The police must assist you by explaining police procedures, informing you of your rights and making the appropriate referral to other relevant service providers.
- The office manager or head of office at the court must provide for the services of an interpreter.
- The prosecutor will ensure that special measures are employed in relation to sexual offences, domestic violence and child support or maintenance matters and that, where available, such cases are heard in specialised courts.
- If you have special needs, all service providers will, within the scope of their functions, take all reasonable steps to accommodate you and ensure that you are treated in a sensitive manner.