Confusion over ‘no arrest’ regulations

2020-05-14 14:15
A man wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Luis Robayo, AFP)

A man wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Luis Robayo, AFP)

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Several regulations, including the wearing of masks in public, while mandatory, cannot be prosecuted.

Police commissioners this week put out a circular informing police officers that several members of the public have been arrested for not wearing a face covering or mask. The circular reads that there are “a number of regulations of which there contraventions thereof are not criminal offences, they only render obligations to persons and entities”. These include:

wearing a cloth or mask – although regulations specify that every person must wear one, “the failure to do so is not an offence and no person may be arrested for the contravention thereof”;

failure of a business owner or person in charge of retail stores or institutions to comply with social distancing, ensuring the number of people in the store complies with regulation and provide hand sanitisers;

failure of a business owner to provide hand sanitisers to employees and adhere to standards of hygiene and health protocols relating to Covid-19 at the workplace; and

failure of taxis to transport fewer than 70% of passengers and busses fewer than 50%.

Recommendations for the amendment of these regulations to make provision for their criminalisation have been made. Police management warned its members that arresting people for failure to comply with a regulation that is not an offence, was unlawful.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo confirmed that people could not be arrested for regulations that were not offences. “Not wearing a mask and the other issues is currently not an offence therefore police cannot arrest for such a failure,” he said.

Johan Burger from the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) justice and violence prevention programme said there was much confusion around the regulations, which led to misinterpretation. Law enforcement officers were not sufficiently briefed on the measures and interpretation. “Some law enforcement officers will act with malice and abuse their authority,” he said.

More important, he said, was ministers and other senior officials sending out confusing statements.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  masks

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