Police not following standing orders on gender separation in police cells must be disciplined

Dan Plato MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

Following media reports alleging that a woman and her one year old child were made to share a police cell with two men, I will be asking the Western Cape Police Commissioner, General Arno Lamoer, to investigate the matter and take the necessary disciplinary action.

The detention appears to be in violation of section 13(1)(b) of SA Police Service Standing Order 361 which provides that “Males and females are never to be detained in the same cell”.

The detention of the 14 month old child with his mother is also a violation of section 28 of the Constitution which provides that a child may only be detained in exceptional circumstances or as a measure of last resort.

Based on the information revealed in the media report, the arrest appears to be unlawful. A “Vredesbrief” is a “Peace Order” issued by a magistrate in terms of section 384 of the previous Criminal Procedure Act, 1955 (Act No 56 of 1955).  A police officer is not entitled to arrest someone on the strength of a peace order.

The complainant says that she was never informed of the reason for her detention.  This is also a clear violation of section 35(2)(a) of the Constitution which provides that everyone who is detained has the right to be informed promptly of the reason for being detained.

Any police officer who fails to honour a standing order on gender separation in police cells, not only places female offenders at serious risk of harm and sexual abuse but also shows the officer’s complete disregard for instructions. Any officers found to be guilty of failing to follow these instructions must be disciplined as a matter of urgency.

A man and woman are not supposed to be kept in the same cell, all officers should know this, and if a police station does not have sufficient facilities then the offender must be transported to another police station with the necessary facilities. Basic human rights must be upheld by police officers.

It is a national and international norm that male and female offenders must be held in separate cells and that regular inspections are conducted. Thankfully, the affected woman was released unharmed, but this might not be the case for the next offender whose rights are not respected.