The South African Police don't understand the Domestic Violence Act

2013-05-08 13:46

Police stations in South Africa struggle to deal with domestic violence complaints and some of the main reasons are that police officers do not understand the Domestic Violence Act (the "Act") and the law and are failing to cope with the paperwork according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. This article is not intended to criticise the Police force as a whole, but the data collected and alluded to below surely raises eyebrows.

The extensive protection available under the Act would be totally meaningless if those responsible for enforcing it, namely SAPS members, fail to render the assistance required of them under the Act. The legislature clearly identified the need for a bold strategy to meet the rampant threat of ever increasing incidences of domestic violence. Its efforts would come to nought if the police, as first point of contact in giving effect to these rights and remedies, remain distant and aloof to them. There are clear guidelines in the Act that the SAP must adhere to as well as instructions and this impose a constitutional duty to protect the country's citizens.

Last year 104 complaints from the public were received of which 32% were in the Western Cape, 18% in Gauteng, 13% in the Eastern Cape and 10% in the Free State. The North West and Northern Cape each had 7% of the reported incidents, whereas 6% were in KwaZulu-Natal. Limpopo and Mpumalanga had 4% and 3% respectively.

35% of the complaints related to a failure to arrest the abuser where an offence containing an element of violence was committed and 17% related to failure to arrest an alleged abuser where a warrant of arrest had been issued.

Out of 101 police station audits conducted from January to June 2011 only 12 were fully compliant with the relevant prescripts. The rest were either partially compliant or non-compliant and for the period July 2011 to March 2012 out of 162 police stations audited, only 27 stations were fully compliant.

The findings of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in respect of the monitoring of the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act by the South African Police found that there were a lack of understanding of the Act and that record keeping was a concern. Forms were not filed properly, registers were not completed properly, some copies of the forms were not filed, a list of service providers were not available or updated, copies of protection orders and warrants of arrest were not filed properly and no file of domestic violence warrants was kept.

In one case which resulted in disciplinary and criminal charges against the police, a rape suspect at Lenasia South police station was released before appearing in court, and the complainant was not told.  The Policeman was charged both departmentally and criminally for aiding escape.

What to do if you want to complain against the Police for not complying with the Act:

You may lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) if you feel that any member or members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) failed to comply with the provisions of the Act. Any interested person, victim of domestic violence and non-governmental organisation may lodge the complaint.

Some of the failures may include failure to:

- Effect arrest against the respondent.

- Assist the complainant to open case, finding a suitable shelter, obtaining medical treatment, accompany complainant to collect personal property and seize any dangerous weapon from the abuser.

- Advise the complainant of options such as failure to advise the complainant to lay criminal charges or to apply for a protection order, or both.

- Serve the respondent with a subpoena to appear in court.

Compiled by:

Bertus Preller

Family and Divorce Law Attorney and author of Everyone's Guide to Divorce and Separation

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

Twitter: @bertuspreller

Email: info(@)divorceattorney.co.za

Web: http://www.divorcelaws.co.za

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