JOHANNESBURG - A legal expert on Saturday said a ruling by the Western Cape High Court, which squashed charges of sexual assault against Arnold Prins, could mean sexual offenders will be able to walk free because of an oversight in legislation.
On Friday, the court set Prins free because the country's Sexual Offences Act does not prescribe penalties for at least 29 sexual crimes described in the legislation.
Prins was accused of a 2009 sexual assault, in terms of the act.
The act, which was effected in December 2007, says it is against the law to sexually assault someone - but does not prescribe a punishment.
Stephen Tuson, a law professor at Wits University, said the principal of legality means there can be no crime without a stipulated punishment.
“A failure of this act, to provide for penalties for these very serious crimes, renders the crimes nonsense.”
This means all offenders convicted of these crimes, which include consensual sex acts with children and sexual offences against the mentally disabled, may now be able to appeal their sentences and possibly be set free.
Convicted sexual offenders could apply to have their convictions set aside.
Rape is one of the offences listed in Chapter 2 of the act, but Tusson said rape is covered under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, so convicted rapists will stay in jail.
Tusson said it is an "extraordinary situation" and a "glaring omission" in the legislation.