An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
(a) The purpose of arrest is to bring before court for trial persons suspected of having committed offences.
(b) Arrest is not the only means of achieving this purpose, nor always the best.
(c) Arrest may never be used to punish a suspect.
(d) Where arrest is called for, force may be used only where it is necessary in order to carry out the arrest.
(e) Where force is necessary, only the least degree of force reasonably necessary to carry out the arrest may be used.
(f) In deciding what degree of force is both reasonable and necessary, all the circumstances must be taken into account, including the threat of violence the suspect poses to the arrester or others, and the nature and circumstances of the offence the suspect is suspected of having committed; the force being proportional in all these circumstances.
(g) Shooting a suspect solely in order to carry out an arrest is permitted in very limited circumstances only.
(h) Ordinarily such shooting is not permitted unless the suspect poses a threat of violence to the arrester or others or is suspected on reasonable grounds of having committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily harm and there are no other reasonable means of carrying out the arrest, whether at that time or later.
(i) These limitations in no way detract from the rights of an arrester attempting to carry out an arrest to kill a suspect in self-defence or in defence of any other person.
The proposed amendments would not require the police officer to take into account “all the circumstances” before deciding whether it would be reasonable and necessary to shoot and even kill a suspect. However, this is exactly what the Constitution requires. The amendments would tilt the scales in favor of extra-judicial police killings (a bit like the Vlakplaas hit squads but this time sanctioned by law) and will not pass constitutional muster.
The drafters of the Bill obviously failed to distinguish between cases where it would be permissible to shoot and injure a suspect in order to effect an arrest and cases where it would be permissible to shoot and kill that suspect. The Constitutional Court has made it clear that the latter would only be lawful in limited circumstances and that only the least degree of force to carry out the arrest would be allowed.
By repeating the wording of point (h) above out of context, the drafters probably thought that the amendments would pass constitutional muster. But they failed to take into account the rest of Kriegler’s summary and have not realized that it does not give the police a blank cheque to shoot and kill suspects merely because they are reasonably suspected of committing a crime that threatened serious bodily injury.
The Constitution requires police officers to decide in each case what degree of force is reasonable and necessary to effect an arrest. The proposed amendments wants to do away with the necessity for officers to make this judgment call. This makes the amendments unconstitutional.
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