In a victory for potential firearm owners, police will have four months to respond to applications for competency certificates.
According to a Pretoria High Court ruling, the police have agreed that these applications be considered within four months of their lodging.
The agreement follows an application brought by the South African Intruder Detection Association, several security companies and about 4 500 individual security officers.
Part of the agreement reached with the national commissioner of police, the head of the office of the Central Firearms Register and the Firearms Appeal Board relates to the individual security officers, who will be issued with competency certificates within 30 days, unless they do not meet the requirements of the Firearms Control Act.
But apart from this agreement being a victory for the security industry, it has also been hailed as a major victory for individuals outside the industry, who no longer have to wait for years to have their applications for a competency certificate considered.
Lawyer Martin Hood said that as the police themselves had conceded to this agreement, they had no choice but to comply with it. “The police will now, for the first time, be committed to a time frame within which to consider these applications. They have admitted that they infringed on the constitutional rights of these people who applied for competency certificates, but who have been waiting for years to have their applications considered.”
Hood said that in the past it had taken anything up to four years for an individual to hear from the police. In terms of this ruling, if a potential gun owner applied today for a competency certificate, he or she had to hear within four months what the outcome was.
A competency certificate has to be obtained before one can obtain a firearm licence. Hood said there was a list of requirements before a competency certificate could be issued, such as that the police first had to do a background check on individuals and ascertain whether they had a criminal record or not. This was an involved and lengthy process.
Members of the security industry must also be registered with their official regulatory body before an application for a competency certificate can be considered.
Meanwhile, the Central Firearms Register and the Firearms Appeal Board have also conceded in the agreement, made an order of court by Pretoria Deputy Judge President Willem van der Merwe, that they have failed the public in not considering these applications in time and that the public is entitled to have applications processed within four months.
The 4 500 security officers who, if they comply with the requirements, are due to receive their competency certificates within 30 days, complained bitterly that they could not carry out their duties without a competency certificate. This meant that security companies preferred to employ security officers who had a certificate. Those who were already employed and lacked such a certificate could not be promoted, were earning a lower wage and had to attend to call-outs unarmed.
Many had been waiting up to four years since they had applied for their certificates.
Mervyn Rip SC, in his heads of argument presented to the court, said it was common cause that the respondents (particularly the Central Firearms Register) were not doing their job. Until recently, more than 1 million applications were lying on their desks, unattended and unprocessed, he said.
Many of these were applications by people who had to get competency certificates as a matter of priority - to do their jobs and to protect the public from crime.
“Most of the damning allegations made against them (the respondents) are uncontested. In fact, they happily conceded that the Central Firearms Register has, historically (up until November last year), been characterised by incompetence, maladministration and even corruption,” said Rip.
The respondents, however, said they had come up with a turn-around strategy which would solve the problems which had plagued the process and the people for so long.
According to Colonel Elias Mahlabane of the Central Firearms Register, the criticism levelled against it could only have been valid before November last year as it had streamlined the whole process. He said there was now only a backlog of 700 000 applications to be processed and they hoped to have all these done by the end of July this year.
Hood said, however, he was sceptical about this because if it had taken five months to consider 200 000 applications, it would take between 15 and 20 months to get through the rest of the backlog. - Pretoria News