SAPS News, Cape Town: Legal specialist in all police matters, Advocate Melville Cloete from the provincial police, recently spoke about the legislation surrounding this topic at a talk at Gene Louw Traffic College in Brackenfell. He addressed members of local neighbourhood watches, warning them of the dangers linked to posting such photos on social media. “You are not allowed to publish a picture identifying an alleged suspect in a crime on WhatsApp or on Facebook before this person had appeared before a court of law,” he stressed. The South African Police Service Act strictly forbids this.

The same applies to pictures of anybody who might be a witness in a criminal case.
“Members of neighbourhood watches often take pictures of suspects at crime scenes, which you can do, but the moment you send the picture to someone else or post it to a social media platform, it is considered published,” he said. Posting photos could lead to vigilantism.

A hefty fine, 12 months imprisonment or a massive civil suit could await you, should you post a picture of any perceived “criminal” on a social media platform.

According to Cloete, the only exception applies when the investigating officer on the scene gives his permission for the picture to be published. In addition to the Police Act, section 35 of the Constitution affords every citizen the right to a fair trial.

“The publication of a photo identifying the alleged perpetrator could thus render the trial unfair and it might result in the suspect being acquitted. The same applies if the perpetrator is identified in public before an ID parade has taken place,” said Cloete The publication of such a photo could furthermore defeat the ends of justice, by hampering a pending investigation.

“It can also lead to vigilante action in cases where the person are responsible.”

Crime Watch SA - legal