The externs in professional mode

Monday, 14 May 2012

What the Law Says about the Power to Arrest?

By Alimamy Koroma, Extern at AdvocAid

Arrest is probably the most widely used method by the police to bring a suspect into the custody of the law.  Given the recent spate of fatal killings by police officers while allegedly effecting arrest, it is of great importance that people understand what the law says about arrest so as to know when the police are simply upholding the law or going beyond their limits.

In truth, the recent gruesome killings of two youths at Wellington by police officers during arrest while being exceptional is not entirely a new phenomenon in terms of unnecessary force employed by police to institute arrest.  I regret to add that a significant number of our clients report incidents of police brutality while being arrested with some even losing properties.  As I write, we are filing a complaint on behalf of twenty two of our clients, including eight women who were either beaten or had their properties looted allegedly by police officers while being arrested for loitering.  One of the female clients sustained serious injury on her right eye.  And quite recently, reports came in again about a motorbike rider who was shot dead by police at Lumley for failing to stop after he had been asked to.

Being an aspiring democratic country with full commitment to human rights protection, it comes as a big surprise that week in week out certain police officers tarnish the reputation of their institution by using excessive force to arrest people at times suspected of very minor crimes.  Legislations on protection from arbitrary arrest and arrest procedures are found in both the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 and the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965.  Section 17 subsection 1 of the 1991 Constitution confers protection from arbitrary arrest or detention to every person in Sierra Leone irrespective of race, tribe, and place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex.  Sections 4 to 15 of the Criminal Procedures Act (1965) constitute the laws governing arrest procedure.  Section 4 (1) allows a police officer to confine or touch the body of a person to be arrested but not when the person consents by word or action.  Section 4 (2) is of utmost significance as it appears to be widely misunderstood by police officers.  It reads “If such person forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him, or attempts to evade the arrest, such constable or other person may use sufficient force to effect the arrest but no more.”  I think the key phrases here are ‘forcibly resists’ and ‘sufficient force’.  The question what constitutes sufficient force is debatable but what is certain is that causing death must not be the first option of the police when effecting arrest.

Similarly, section 8 of the said Criminal Procedure Act 1965 provides that “The person arrested shall not be subjected to more restraint than is necessary to prevent his escape”.  It cannot be clearer than this.  

Any police officer who therefore shoots people unnecessarily on the pretext of arrest does so entirely on his own volition and neither the police code of conduct not the Constitution of Sierra Leone offers him a defense.  And whereas our country is based on the rule of law it would not be long before these culprits face justice.

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