Amendments to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which determines when police may use deadly force, are in line with Judge Johann Kriegler’s landmark Constitutional Court ruling on the matter, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Thursday.
“When you see the draft … you will realise that the amendment will be in conformity with the guidelines established by former Constitutional Court Judge Kriegler in State versus Walters where he elaborated the guidelines that must be used by the police,” Rabebe told a media briefing.
“That is precisely what this amendment is about. Judge Kriegler even uses the words deadly force in setting those guidelines under particular circumstances…” Radebe said the amendment would be before Cabinet “soon”.
Section 49 gives police the right to use lethal force if their lives or those of innocent bystanders are in danger.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, his deputy Fikile Mbalula and national police commissioner Bheki Cele have all suggested that as it stands, it places too heavy a discretionary burden on the police on when to shoot.
But reworking the law, along with repeated statements by Cele and the police ministry urging officers to “shoot to kill”, sparked fears of indiscriminate use of force and a return to apartheid-era abuses.
This was compounded by the death last year of a three-year-old in Midrand who was shot by police who mistakenly thought the child was holding a firearm.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said regardless of any change of wording, the police would always have to make split second decisions on whether it was justified to use lethal force and therefore needed better training.
Meanwhile, Mbalula told Thursday’s press briefing that police’s tougher approach to criminals had shown “results”.
“You have seen the results. Some of the criminals who thought they could hold the country at ransom… With our tactical response teams on the ground, in our crime combating strategy, we have been able to nip them in the bud.”
Mbalula insisted that the outcry over orders to “shoot to kill” had been “blown out of proportion”. “There is no government policy that says shoot to kill,” he said. “The point we are making is that we cannot be seen to be smiling with criminals and crime. “What we are saying is uphold the law. Use the deadly force correctly to defend yourself against dangerous criminals.”
Source: www.thestar.co.za, also in Sapa online, 20100305
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