Ipid takes stand for its independence from SAPS

Advocate Steven Budlender said the watchdog body needed to remain independent from police.

FILE: Robert McBride. Picture: Sapa.

JOHANNESBURG - Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride's legal team on Friday argued that for the watchdog body to properly perform its oversight role it needed to be independent of the South African Police Service (Saps).

This argument was heard in the High Court in Pretoria where McBride is seeking to interdict Police Minister Nathi Nhleko from suspending him.

At the centre of the dispute is Ipid's report into the illegal deportation of five Zimbabweans in 2010.

McBride is questioning the constitutionality of the legal provisions that Nhleko has relied on to take action against him.

Advocate Steven Budlender said in the context of Ipid, it's especially important that the police minister did not have broad powers to suspend or remove the watchdog's head.

"Given that Ipid's function is to investigate complaints of misconduct by the Saps and maintain effective oversight of Saps, it's essential that it remains independent of the SAPS."

He said it was irrelevant that McBride had not yet been suspended, because the harm is already done.

"It's the process of suspension and the fact that an independent official has to justify himself to an executive official under pain of suspension. That is what causes the breach of the constitution."

Council for the police ministry said he has acted within the provision of the Ipid act.

Budlender said the same legal principles of protecting the Hawks, should apply to Ipid.

"The degree of independence that must vest in Ipid, can be no less than that, and the reason it can be no less than that is because Ipid, unlike the Hawks, has a specific constitutional injunction, which expressly requires it to be independent."

Budlender said security of tenure is perhaps the most important aspect of independence.

"The reason is if you have a person who has no security of tenure, then he cannot act independently because he is constantly looking over his shoulder, to see who might be about to remove him."

Council for the police ministry has opposed the application and is expected to file heads of argument on Monday.