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ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES ARE SERIOUS
HOW TO REPORT AN ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME TO THE POLICE
In South Africa, walking into your local police station to report an environmental crime is not the same as reporting a stolen bicycle.
THE SOUND OF CRICKETS
You are more than likely to get a blank stare from a police officer followed by the sound of crickets, if you tell him that you are there to report an environmental crime.
This is despite the fact that our environmental laws give police officers the power to enforce and investigate environmental crimes (with the exception of routine inspections and administrative enforcement).
I can remember the time when I first attempted to report an environmental crime at my local police station. I spent close to an hour trying to explain to the police officer that the offence I was reporting was indeed a criminal offence.
ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES ARE SERIOUS
Environmental crimes, and environmental matters generally can be complex, especially from a legal point of view.
Environmental offences, such as those under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) are Schedule 1 offences under the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) .
The penalties range from admission of guilt fines of a maximum of R5000, to fines of up to R10 million rand or 10 years imprisonment or both.
So if you witness an environmental crime, how do you go about reporting it or opening a case with the police ?
TIPS FOR REPORTING AN ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME TO THE POLICE
Ideally, you should report the offence to your local or provincial environmental authority (environmental management inspector - EMI) who should in turn open the case with the SAPS – but I know for a fact that this is easier said than done.
Before ending up at the police station, draft your own affidavit. I know that this can be time consuming but if you are determined to open a criminal case, you should put some effort into putting down the facts and evidence on paper. I would advise that you get a lawyer to assist you in drafting the affidavit if you get no help from the provincial or local EMI.
When arriving at the community service centre of the police station, ask to speak to the detective on duty.
Ask for an opportunity to discuss your case. After a discussion, it might make things easier to register the case.
Once your case has been registered, you will be provided with a CAS number. This is usually sent to you via SMS. You should also be given the details of the Investigating Officer (IO) at a later stage.
Follow up with the IO regularly on the status of the investigation.
If the investigation stalls for whatever reason, you may need to put pressure on the provincial EMI dealing with the matter or even the prosecutor.
The reality is that your case is more likely to drag on for years, if the provincial EMI or IO has not concluded his investigation, and moreso, if you are the only witness to the crime.
In these circumstances, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will surely decline to prosecute.
CRIMES MUST BE REPORTED
The reality is that our criminal justice system is not something to celebrate.
The fact is that our current criminal justice system's approaches to crime are so ineffective and counter-productive that we find ourselves in a frightening crisis…1
Be that as it may, an alleged crime must be reported. The EMIs and the South African Police have a moral, ethical and legal duty to investigate crimes.
If you are witness to an environmental crime, or if you suspect that a crime is being committed, as a start, you can report it to the National Environmental Crimes Hotline on 0800 205 005 or email email@example.com.
Edwin Cameron (former Justice of the Constitutional Court). Comment and analysis - The Crisis of Criminal Justice in South Africa. SA Crime Quarterly. No. 69. Pretoria (2020).