It can be quite daunting to bring a case against the police. The purpose of a civil case is to compensate the complainant, rather than punish the relevant authority’s breach of your constitutional rights. Police officers and other government officials get away with a lot of unlawful conduct, because the case is not necessarily to punish them but for the state to pay the citizens for their loss or damage. If this was a fair process, it would compensate the complainant then punish the authority, to make sure nothing of the same nature occurs again.Suing the state should be free, because the purpose of a civil case is to compensate the complainant, laws often protect the authority and many South Africans are unemployed.

Firstly, the South African government must start properly protecting its citizens. Once you start with your case, you are introduced to laws that support the state. Qualified immunity is a law that protects police officers and other government officials from liability – it could mean they don’t pay for their heinous crimes. This law protects everyone in the police department and it is only known to them what the criteria is to be approved for immunity, but most get it. Police officers get free legal services from top-rated law firms in the country. The government protects its cabinet more than it does the country. Bribery and nepotism play such a huge role in officers not being suspended or fired.

Secondly, the majority of South Africa is unemployed. Unless you get legal aid or financial support, these civil claims can be expensive if you use the expertise of a specialist attorney. All damages claims have to be made within a pre-determined period after the injustice incident has occurred. While you are out there trying to get money, time is running out. Civil claims can be very time consuming and you are responsible for gathering your own evidence. They take a long time before the final decision; this affects your work, school and personal life. You need to be focused on the case and you travel a lot putting together evidence. This is the part where corruption takes place – the opposition is capable of tempering with your evidence before you get to it.

Lastly, the government makes it clear whose side they are on, and it’s not the citizens’. Most people decide to not go the suing route because the state winning is quite inevitable. An estimated R2,6 billion has been paid out by SAPS in civil claims over the past 7 years, which is a joke judging from the number of civil cases filed within that period. All the departments are under the jurisdiction of the government, meaning they can access/obtain documents and information anytime and do anything with them. By the time the complainant gets to those documents, it’s not the originals anymore and the only thing you can do is pay more money to your attorney, and that doesn’t really guarantee you winning at the end.

Before the case proceeds, they let you know that you MAY win the case and get compensation for your loss, damage or harm. This statement on its own is rather demotivating because you go into it already thinking you’re going to lose. They are actually being honest because they have all the resources, the best legal team and immunity all to make sure you lose the case.

Civil actions against the police are important for a number of reasons. It is important that agents of the state, such as the police, are held to account. The innocent victims of police abuse should be given a voice. Claiming compensation from the police when they act outside of the law is an important civil right which must be protected and made free for all. With the crime rate in South Africa, and the government playing a part in the problem, new laws must be put in place. A government should be for the people, not for itself. We need a constitution that protects the citizens in the way it was intended to.