Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says the arrest of Advocate Malesela Teffo inside a court room was “completely unacceptable” and should not have happened.
Teffo, the defence advocate representing four of the five accused in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial, was arrested inside the high court last Thursday and led away in handcuffs in front of television cameras, just after proceedings in the Meyiwa murder trial were postponed.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, Zondo highly criticised the arrest of Teffo inside the court room and said it showed disrespect for the judiciary.
“The Chief Justice wishes to make it clear that the arrest of anybody, let alone a legal practitioner, inside a court room is completely unacceptable and should not have happened. In this regard, it should be remembered that this was the same court room in which Advocate Teffo appeared representing his clients,” said Zondo.
“There was no justifiable reason why the SAPS could not have waited for Advocate Teffo to leave the court room and the court premises before they could arrest him. After all, as I understand the position, the warrant of arrest had been issued about two months earlier and waiting until Advocate Teffo had left the court premises would not have made any difference. Adv Teffo was not going to spend the evening in the court room.
“The conduct of the SAPS in effecting the arrest inside the court room and the manner in which the arrest was effected on a legal practitioner and therefore, on an officer of the court, was an assault on the dignity of the court and the Judiciary. An officer of the court was arrested in a manner that was tottally unacceptable and showed disrespect for the judiciary.”
Zondo, however, explained that his statement was not about whether Teffo should have been arrested, but about the place where he was arrested and the manner in which it was done.
‘Teffo aware of the warrant of arrest’
According to the South African Police Service (SAPS), Advocate Teffo was previously arrested by the SAPS on charges of common assault and trespassing after allegedly assaulting a female SAPS member and entering the SAPS Gauteng Provincial building, in contravention of a high court interdict prohibiting him from entering the said building.
After failing to appear before the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on several occasions, including on 27 January 2022, a warrant of arrest (J165) was issued and withheld, said the SAPS.
The case was remanded to 10 February 2022. Advocate Teffo was again not in court, and bail was finally forfeited to the state. An instruction was then issued by the court for the warrant of arrest to be executed.
“Advocate Teffo was aware that a warrant of arrest had been issued as he had contacted the Investigating Officer in this regard, proof of which the SAPS is in possession of. It is also worth noting that Advocate Teffo has previously provided various residential addresses to secure his bail. These addresses were visited, but it was later discovered that he could not be traced as he no longer resided at the identified addresses,” said the police in a statement.
“While the intention was to execute the warrant outside the court room, the manner in which the events unfolded made it challenging for the team. According to the Investigating Officer, as soon as the court adjourned, the investigating officer approached the Advocate who was making his way towards the court door. It is important to highlight that after informing the Advocate of the execution of the warrant of arrest and informing him of his rights, the Advocate went back into the court room. The Investigating Officer then followed him back inside the court room in a bid to ensure that the latter complies with the contents of the warrant of arrest. Advocate Teffo did not cooperate with the Investigating Officer which warranted the call for the assistance of the Tactical Response Team (TRT) members who were already posted in the same court for escort duties.”
Advocate Teffo appeared in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on 29 April 2022, where he was granted bail of R10,000. The case was postponed to 27 May 2022.
The advocate reportedly plans to sue Police Miniser Bheki Cele.