The General Council of the Bar of South Africa (GCB) has called for a thorough investigation by an independent body into the high-profile arrest of advocate Malesela Teffo.
It also wants the outcome of the probe to be made public without delay.
Advocate Teffo, who represents four of the five accused in the Senzo Meyiwa trial, was arrested inside the Pretoria High Court on Thursday just after proceedings in the highly publicised trial were wrapped.
He was granted R10,000 bail on Friday by the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court for failing to appear in court in January on a charge of trespassing.
The GCB on Friday joined in the growing chorus of condemnation for the manner in which the South African Police Service (Saps) carried out Teffo’s arrest in court.
The chairperson of the GCB, Craig Watt-Pringle SC, said the organisation was deeply concerned about the events that happened in the high court on Thursday, saying it showed “profound disrespect” for the dignity of the court.
Watt-Pringle said the Meyiwa murder trial is, to the knowledge of the Saps, high profile and the proceedings were being televised.
He questioned whether the manner in which Teffo was arrested was meant to humiliate him, or worse, intimidate or harass him.
“Footage of the arrest and of Mr Teffo being led away in handcuffs by a group of five or six police officers, reportedly from the Saps’ Tactical Response Unit, has been shown on national television and has prompted a storm of criticism directed at the Saps,” he said in a statement.
Despite Police Minister Bheki Cele requesting the police’s top brass to submit a report on the matter, Watt-Pringle criticised Saps for its slow response to issue an explanation of “this affront to the dignity of the court and its high-handed treatment of an officer of that court.”
“The [Gauteng police] provincial commissioner was unable this morning (Friday 29 April) to provide any explanation despite his statement on the radio that he had spoken to the investigating officer about the arrest.
“It is difficult to imagine what could justify a defence advocate having to be arrested and placed in handcuffs in the high court building, and the glare of the publicity surrounding the Meyiwa trial, while going about his professional duty representing the criminally accused.”
Watt-Pringle added that it was improbable that Teffo would be unwilling to present himself at a police station for arrest if called upon to do so.
Or failing that, that he could not have been arrested away from the high court in which he was appearing, or that he constituted a flight risk.
“As defence counsel, Mr Teffo is pitted against the investigation conducted by the Saps. He is entitled to do so without any form of hindrance or intimidation from any quarter, least of all from the state.”
“Whether there are good grounds for his arrest is yet to be revealed. If there are grounds for Mr Teffo’s arrest, he ought to have been arrested like any other person.
“But absent compelling grounds for the place, timing, and manner of Mr Teffo’s arrest, these create the impression that it must have been done in order to humiliate Mr Teffo, or worse, to intimidate and harass him.”
Teffo is due to appear in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court again on 27 May 2022.