A recent ruling by the Krugersdorp Regional Court in the "Sunday rapist" case suggests that change may be on the horizon with respect to the disclosure of the identities of individuals charged with sexual offences before they appear in court.

Section 154(2)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 provides that:

"No person shall at any stage before the appearance of an accused in a court upon any charge referred to in section 153(3) [indecency or extortion] or at any stage after such appearance but before the accused has pleaded to the charge, publish in any manner whatever any information relating to the charge in question."

The above provision essentially ensures that no details as to the identity of an accused in a crime involving a sexual offence will be published before the accused has pleaded to the charge in court.

However, the Krugersdorp Regional Court recently ruled that the media can publish pictures of the person who is alleged to be the "Sunday rapist", Johannes Jacobus Steyn, even though he has not yet pleaded. On 1 February 2012, Magistrate Keith Page reportedly ruled that the taking of photographs during the court proceedings will be prohibited, but it will not be prejudicial to Steyn for the press to take pictures before or after the court case and to publish those pictures.

The ruling by Magistrate Page suggests that courts may be becoming more aware of the unduly restrictive nature of section 154(2)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Act, due to the restrictive effect it has on freedom of expression and crime reporting. The team will be closely monitoring any further developments in this area of the law, which is ripe for reform.

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