Hawks bill: not nearly independent enough

2012-02-25 17:05

The battle for the independence of the Hawks will start afresh this week, after police on Friday tabled a bill in Parliament that will likely attempt to keep the elite crime-fighting unit within the police.

A Constitutional Court judgment last year found that the crime-fighting unit was insufficiently independent from political influence to operate as a ­­graft-busting unit, a situation the court ordered Parliament to ­rectify.

The decision to disband the Scorpions – located within the National Prosecuting Authority – and replace them with the Hawks unit, under the authority of the police, came into effect in 2009.

The decision was the result of a resolution adopted by the ANC at its Polokwane Conference in 2007, at which Jacob Zuma was also elected president of the party.

The law was immediately challenged by businessperson Hugh Glenister, who argued that the ­decision was taken because the Scorpions had been investigating Zuma for corruption.

Late on Friday afternoon, the police tabled the South African Police Service Amendment Bill in ­Parliament.

In the Government Gazette ­notice, the department says the bill seeks to “align the provisions relating to the (Hawks) in order to ensure that the directorate has the operational independence to fulfil its mandate without undue interference”.

Zweli Mnisi, department of police spokesperson, said that the Constitutional Court judgment did “not require us to establish a structure outside the SAPS and create another (Scorpions unit)”.

“Parliament will still have to embark on a consultation process so the public will be welcome to make submissions to the parliamentary committee on any issue”, he said.

But Glenister told City Press he was “flabbergasted” that the police believed the Hawks could be independent if they were located within the police.

Paul Hoffman (SC), Glenister’s lawyer, said that the Hawks would be “insufficiently independent” if placed under the police.

“Mr Glenister will allow Parliament to consider the bill, make the representations he thinks are important but if he is not happy with what comes out he will take it back to the judges,” said Hoffman.

The Constitutional Court judgment gives Parliament until ­September 18 to ensure the independence of the Hawks, although it does not expressly require the unit be located outside the police.

Johan Burger, of the Institute for Security Studies, said it would be a “challenge to ensure sufficient independence if the police retain the (Hawks) within the police unit”, but that Parliament would have to decide whether this would meet the requirements of the judgment.

According to the summary of the bill published in the Government Gazette, it seeks to deal with the powers of the Ministerial Committee to issue guidelines to the Hawks on investigations, referral of cases by the National ­Commissioner of Police, the job security of the head of the Hawks and an oath of office to be taken by members of the unit.

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