Pretoria - Both the General Council of the Bar of South Africa and the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa have called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances under which advocate Malesela Teffo was arrested on Thursday in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
The legal representative of accused number one to four in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial was dramatically arrested and cuffed in full view of the media and public seconds after the court had adjourned.
The General Council of the Bar called for a thorough investigation into the matter by an independent body, and for the outcome to be made public.
Chairperson Craig Watt-Pringle SC said that for the police to arrest an officer of the high court within the court precinct showed a profound disrespect for the dignity of the court.
He also criticised the police for adopting high-handed tactics to humiliate and intimidate the advocate who was acting against the State on behalf of his clients, the accused.
“It is difficult to imagine what could justify a defence advocate having to be arrested and placed in handcuffs in the high court building in the glare of the publicity surrounding the Meyiwa trial, while going about his professional duty,” Watt-Pringle said.
He said that if there were good grounds for his arrest, he should have been arrested like any other person. Instead, Watt-Pringle said, the impression was created that he was arrested to humiliate him.
Chairperson of Pan African Bar Nasreen Rajab-Budlender said they too were deeply shocked and concerned by the manner in which Teffo was arrested.
“The arrest inside the courtroom is unprecedented in our constitutional democratic dispensation. An arrest in such circumstances, where no immediate threat existed, and in the presence of the media and the public, is so demeaning and unusual so as to raise serious questions about why the SAPS thought it appropriate to arrest an officer of the court in such a manner.”
It said such conduct by the SAPS undermined the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and should be condemned by the legal fraternity and by all South Africans.
“The dignity of our courts was clearly undermined by the conduct of the SAPS in this case, and it is important that such conduct should not stand unchallenged.”
The body also called on the justice ministry to launch a full investigation as to how the arrest could have happened in court.
The management of the SAPS said it noted the sentiments expressed by various stakeholders including the media, the legal fraternity as well as members of the public, pertaining to the execution of the warrant of arrest on Teffo.
Following the execution of the warrant of arrest, national police commissioner General Fannie Masemola said provincial commissioner of Gauteng, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, would provide a full report on the matter. Masemola explained how the arrest came about and said Teffo was previously arrested by the SAPS on charges of common assault and trespassing. He had allegedly assaulted a female SAPS member and entered the SAPS Gauteng provincial building. That was in contravention of a high court interdict prohibiting him from entering the said building.
He said that after failing to appear in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on several occasions, a warrant of arrest was issued and withheld.
The case was remanded to February 10, and when Teffo was again not in court, bail was finally forfeited to the State.
Teffo was released on bail following his arrest on Thursday.