'Shoot to kill' bill on agenda in parliament (24.8.2011)

ROWAN PHILP

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's "shoot to kill" bill will come under fire in parliament today.

Objectors will tell a parliamentary committee that it could encourage police officers to "shoot first and ask questions later".

Seeking to give "clarity" about when police can shoot, the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill gives broader powers to officers in the use of deadly force.

The amendment, requested by the police minister and supported by President Jacob Zuma, allegedly removes the concept of "imminent and future danger" from the law - allowing police to shoot fleeing people based on their suspected past actions.

But a stream of submissions to the justice portfolio committee, which will hold a hearing today, say the wording might lead to abuse, increase the number of people shot dead by police, and even put police officers at risk.

Last year, 524 people died in police action, up from 282 in 2005/2006, including 16 bystanders, according to the Independent Complaints Directorate.

In submissions seen by The Times:

  • The Law Society says the amendment would lead to a violation of human rights;
  • Lawyers for Human Rights says the bill "has removed the immediacy of the threat required" for police to use deadly force. "The arrester can now use force in circumstances that are not urgent";
  • The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation warns the bill will "lead to excessive use of deadly force" and complains that it empowers "arresters" rather than a more limited number of professional "peace officers";
  • The Institute for Security Studies says the bill "may encourage untrained citizens to place themselves and others at unnecessary risk by allowing them to decide to use deadly force to arrest a dangerous individual".

The institute points out there is no correlation between reductions in violent crime and the use of deadly force by the police; and

  • The African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum agrees with the minister that the old law was "ambiguous", but argues the new one might allow police to shoot a suspect "without the requirement that the suspect poses a threat of serious bodily harm to the arrester or anyone".

It complains that the new rule is dangerously "pinned" to suspects resisting or fleeing arrest.

In an earlier statement to parliament, the Department of Justice defended the bill as "providing greater legal certainty to arresters", and bringing the law in line with a ruling by the Constitutional Court in 1998.

The department said the SA Police Service wanted the amendment partly because a policeman chasing a known violent offender "runs the risk of the suspect turning around and firing at the police officer".

Times Live