High court rules “20-year guillotine” on reporting sexual abuse unconstitutional

In what has been hailed as “a major victory for all victims of sexual abuse”, the high court in Johannesburg today ruled that sexual abuse cases are no longer limited to a 20-year cut-off date.

 Acting Judge Claire Hartford declaring Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutional. Previously, the Act, held that crimes of rape may be prosecuted at any stage, but victims of sexual abuse crimes had to lay charges within 20 years.

The court case was brought by eight men and women – known as the Frankel Eight – who filed a civil lawsuit in 2013 against billionaire businessperson and socialite Sidney Frankel.
The group has accused Frankel of sexually abusing them as children. Frankel died in April.

The court has sent the section to Parliament for 18 months in order for it to “remedy the constitutional defect”.

The ruling saw what has been referred to as the “20-year guillotine” on reporting sexual offences removed from all sexual offences.

Johannesburg’s Teddy Bear Foundation acted as amicus curiae (friend of the court). Welcoming the ruling, Shaheda Omar, the foundation’s director, said: “We are jubilant. Because this applies to all sexual offences, this is more than just a victory for children, but also for adult survivors of sexual abuse. We want to commend and salute the applicants for their bravery and courage. If they had not come forward, this issue would not have been addressed.”

The court ordered costs to be paid by the minister of justice and the late Frankel’s estate.