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Police's use of English under fire

22 Mar 2023

THE South African Human Rights Commission SAHRC says it will be engaging with the SAPS following a complaint from the DA on the decision by the Western Cape police to record complainants' statements in English only. SAHRC Commissioner Andre Gaum said: "The Commission received the complaint and will send an allegation letter to South African Police Service SAPS this coming week." DA's spokesperson on police, Okkie Terblanche, said the party would fight the "latest attack" on the language.

"The SAHRC has now confirmed that they received our complaint and that they will be launching an investigation. We will fight this latest attack with the same vigour as we have fought previous battles. "To force a victim of a crime to give a statement in a language that is not their mother tongue will only lead to cases being thrown out on technicalities or worse, victims not coming forward at all because they don't feel that the police are helping them." Police spokesperson, Andre Traut, said the use of official languages in the SAPS is regulated in terms of Policy 1 of 2016, as well as the directives by the relevant courts, with the most recent being the Official Language of Records in Al Courts within the Western Cape issued on February 28, 2018. "Although police officials are not trained as interpreters or allotted as interpreters, it is a requirement that all members who are appointed in the South African Police Service are conversant in English, which is the working language of the South African Police Service. "All documents submitted in both civil and criminal cases and which will form part of the eventual records of court must be in English.

The only limited exception permitted by the courts will be the submission of witness statements in a language other than English and only if the witness is not sufficiently conversant in English. "In order to address the policing needs of our diverse communities in the Western Cape and also to ensure speedy and efficient adjudication of cases presented to court, SAPS in the Western Cape issued an instruction to assist police officials at ground level as to how to practically deal with the requirements of the public who are conversant in for example only one language being Xhosa, Afrikaans, French etc." Traut said all members of the police were therefore required to complete case dockets and their statements in English for purposes of presenting it to court. "A member who takes down a statement or conducts an interview with a victim of crime must do so in the language that the victim chooses or understands. "A victim must not be turned away based on the member's inability to understand the victim, hence a duty is placed as per the directives of the South African Police Service for a member to request the assistance from an appropriate person who is able to interpret the language," he said.

Source: The Star

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