Police must avert lawsuits - Mthethwa

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pretoria - In a bid to avert and reduce lawsuits instituted against members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), police management must review and strengthen the command and control practice across the department, from police stations, clusters, provincial and national levels. 

This is according to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who was responding to a Parliamentary question on Tuesday regarding the cost of legal cases and how many legal matters were dealt with by his department over the past three years.

Many of the specified legal matters were dealt with by the State Attorney and private attorneys during the specified periods and the reasons thereof.

The number of civil claims dealt with by SAPS was 7 004 in 2009/2010. In 2010/2011 the number was significantly reduced to 3 007 and during the 2011/2012 the number increased to 5 090.

Mthethwa explained that the amounts of litigation served against the department vary from wrongful arrests, corruption, negligent conduct and in some instances commission of serious offences by police officers.

“We have, as the police leadership and management, repeatedly stated that we will not tolerate police officers who abuse the law, whether from wrongful arrests or assault any person. That is why we have now strengthened civilian oversight of the police through the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the Civilian Secretariat for Police,” said Mthethwa.

He has requested the National Commissioner of Police Riah Phiyega to look into the issue of litigations as a matter of urgency. “We need to close this gap by identifying the training needs of our police and where appropriate, take tough disciplinary actions against those who abuse the law,” he said.

According to Mthethwa, the number of claims dealt with do not necessarily relate to claims received in the same specified periods. A large number of these claims become dormant, prescribed, were abandoned, withdrawn or did not comply with the Institution of Legal Proceedings against Certain Organs of State Act, Act 40 of 2002.

In principle, civil claims against the state are being dealt with by the State Attorney`s office once instructed by SAPS to act on behalf of the department.

However, there may be exceptional cases where the State Attorney cannot act on behalf of SAPS due to, for example, a conflict of interest that may arise. In such matters SAPS is compelled to utilise the services of private attorneys.

Mthethwa reiterated government’s stance to fight crime, “smartly and toughly but within the framework of the law”. 

“I have always emphasised that this tough stance on crime must be balanced by our philosophy that policing must also be oriented along respect for human rights, be community-centred and protect the weak and the vulnerable in society,” he said. – SAnews.gov.za