Evaluating the 'First Report': The persistent problem of evidence and distrust of the complainant in the adjudication of sexual offences

Journal Article


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Journal Title

South African Journal of Criminal Justice

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Volume Title

Juta Law


University of Cape Town

This article looks at the issue of the first report, which exceptionally permits a complainant in a sexual offence case to offer a previously consistent statement into evidence. In the law of evidence a previous consistent statement is a written or oral statement, made by a witness on some prior occasion to testifying, which is substantially similar to her testimony in court. Normally, previous consistent statements are deemed to be inadmissible at trial because such testimony is considered to be self-serving and lacking in probative value. However, throughout jurisdictions following the Anglo-American tradition previous consistent statements in sexual offences are allowed as an exception to the general rule. This article reviews the history of the first report rule, including critical feminist legal critique of the rule's origins. The paper proceeds with a comparative look at divergent approaches to reform that have emerged with the rule in foreign jurisdictions. This analysis includes a review of reform proposals from the South African Law Commission (now the South African Law Reform Commission) before looking at a recent controversial case in the Supreme Court of Appeal that dealt with the first report, namely the case of S v Hammond.