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S v Mbatha, S v Prinsloo (CCT19/95, CCT35/95) [1996] ZACC 1; 1996 (3) BCLR 293; 1996 (2) SA 464 (9 February 1996)

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                              16

 

 

 

         IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF SOUTH AFRICA

 

 

 

                                             CASE NO CCT 19/95

In the matter between:

 

The  STATE

and

WELLINGTON MBATHA

 

 

and

 

                                             CASE   NO.    CCT

35/95

In the matter between:

 

The  STATE

and

NICOLAAS  MARTHINUS  PRINSLOO

Heard on:           16 NOVEMBER 1995

Delivered on:        9 FEBRUARY 1996

 

                            JUDGMENT

 

 

LANGA J:

 

[1]  Two  matters come to this Court by way of referrals  from

     the  Witwatersrand Local Division of the  Supreme  Court.

     The  accused in the first case is Wellington  Mbatha  who

     was  tried  and  convicted  in  the  Regional  Court   at

     Germiston. Nicolaas Marthinus Prinsloo, an accused in the

     second  matter,  is  standing trial in the  Witwatersrand

     Local Division with 25 others in the case of the S  v  Le

     Roux  and  Others.   I  shall refer to  the  two  accused

     persons as the applicants.

 

[2]  In  the first matter, the applicant appealed against  his

     conviction on two counts under the provisions of the Arms

     and  Ammunition  Act 75 of 1969 (the  Act).   The  charge

     concerned the unlawful possession of two AK47 rifles  and

     twelve rounds of ammunition, in contravention of sections

     32(1)(a)  and  32(1)(e)  of the  Act  respectively.   The

     sentences  imposed, of eight and two years’  imprisonment

     respectively,  were  ordered  to  run  concurrently.   On

     appeal, the matter was in turn referred to this Court  by

     Leveson  J, with MacArthur J agreeing, for a decision  on

     the  constitutionality  of the presumption  contained  in

     section 40(1) of the Act.

 

[3]  The  twenty-six  (26) accused in the second  matter  were

     indicted  on  various charges, 96 counts in all,  arising

     out  of  a  series  of bomb explosions which  took  place

     before  the national elections in April 1994.  After  the

     close  of the prosecution case,  Flemming DJP refused  an

     application for the discharge of all the accused  on  all

     counts.   The applicant and six others were acquitted  on

     all  but  four of the counts, namely,  counts 80  to  83,

     which  relate to the unlawful possession of machine guns,

     firearms and ammunition, in contravention respectively of

     sections 32(1)(a) and 32(1)(e) of the Act. In refusing to

     discharge  the applicant on those remaining  counts,  the

     trial   Judge  stated  that  he  relied  solely  on   the

     presumption  in  section  40(1)  of  the  Act.   He  then

     suspended the proceedings and made the referral order  in

     terms  of  section  102(1)  of the  Constitution  of  the

     Republic   of   South  Africa  Act  200  of   1993   (the

     Constitution)  on the basis that it was in the  interests

     of  justice that the issue be resolved at this  stage  of

     the  proceedings.   The  case has been  postponed  to  16

     February 1996.

 

 

[4]  The  issue  in  both  matters  is  the  validity  of  the

     presumption contained in section 40(1) of the Act in  the

     light  of the provisions of section 25(3)(c) and  (d)  of

     the   Constitution.  The  applicants  complain  that  the

     presumption  offends against the ‘fair trial’  provisions

     in  the  Constitution, in particular,  the  right  to  be

     presumed   innocent  and  the  privilege  against   self-

     incrimination. Section 40(1) of the Act provides:

 

          Whenever  in  any  prosecution  for  being   in

          possession  of  any  article  contrary  to  the

          provisions of this Act, it is proved that  such

          article  has  at any time been  on  or  in  any

          premises,  including  any  building,  dwelling,

          flat,  room,  office, shop, structure,  vessel,

          aircraft  or  vehicle or any part thereof,  any

          person  who  at that time was on or  in  or  in

          charge  of  or  present at  or  occupying  such

          premises,  shall be presumed to  have  been  in

          possession of that article at that time,  until

          the contrary is proved.

 

[5]  The  first  comprehensive statute to  regulate  arms  and

     ammunition nationally was the Arms and Ammunition Act  28

     of  1937.  Prior to this, each of the four provinces  had

     their own acts regulating the possession and distribution

     of  arms  and  ammunition.  Section 32 of  the  1937  Act

     provided:

 

          Any occupier of premises and any person who  is

          upon  or  in  charge of or who accompanies  any

          vehicle,  vessel  or animal upon  which  or  in

          which there is any article mentioned in section

          one  or any arm or ammunition shall, until  the

          contrary  is proved, be deemed for the purposes

          of this Act to be the possessor of such article

          or arm as the case may be.

 

     The Orange Free State (Act 23 of 1908) and Transvaal (Act

     10  of  1907)  had substantially similar provisions.  Our

     courts,  in  an  attempt  to avoid  obviously  unintended

     results,  interpreted the word “occupier” in the 1937 Act

     strictly.   Thus in S v Mnguni 1962(3) SA  662  (NPD)  at

     664D-E,  the  word was held to mean the  person  “who  is

     responsible for the premises and has the general  control

     of  them.” It was held further that the word did not mean

     “any  person who is an occupant of premises”  because  it

     was  “unlikely  that the legislature  would  have  deemed

     every person residing on the premises to be the possessor

     of  arms.”   Section 40(1) of the present Act  came  into

     operation   on  1  February  1972.  The  terms   of   the

     presumption are clearly wider in scope than those in  the

     antecedent   legislation,  and  now  include   not   only

     occupants  of  premises but also persons  “on”,  “in”  or

     “present at” such premises at any time when the “article”

     has been “on” or “in” such premises.

 

[6]  Aspects  of  section 25(3)(c) and (d) of the Constitution

     have  already been the subject of enquiry in some of  the

     matters  before  this  Court in  which  their  impact  on

     statutory   presumptions  in   our   criminal   law   was

     considered. The relevant part of the section reads:

 

          Every accused person shall have the right to  a

          fair trial, which shall include the right .....

          (c)  to  be  presumed innocent  and  to  remain

               silent  during plea proceedings  or  trial

               and not to testify during trial;

          (d)  to  adduce and challenge evidence, and not

               to   be   a  compellable  witness  against

               himself or herself ...

 

 

[7]    In S v Zuma and Others 1995(2) SA 642(CC); 1995(4) BCLR

     401(CC), the issue was the constitutionality of  a  legal

     provision  contained  in  section  217(1)(b)(ii)  of  the

     Criminal  Procedure Act 51 of 1977 which placed a  burden

     on  the accused to rebut a presumed fact, namely, that  a

     confession  had  been made freely and  voluntarily.   The

     phrase “unless the contrary is proved” which was used  in

     the  provision  meant, in effect,  that  if  the  accused

     failed  to discharge the burden of proof, that is,  on  a

     balance   of  probabilities,  the  confession  would   be

     admitted  notwithstanding the existence of  a  reasonable

     doubt that it had been made freely and voluntarily.  (See

     Ex  Parte  Minister of Justice: In re: R v  Jacobson  and

     Levy 1931 AD 466 at 471; Ex parte Minister of Justice: In

     re: R v Bolon 1941 AD 345 at 360 - 361; S v Mphahlele and

     Another 1982 (4) SA 505 (A) at 512C).  Sections 25(2) and

     25(3)(c)  and  (d)  of  the Constitution  entrench  as  a

     fundamental constitutional value the fact that it is  the

     duty  of the prosecution to prove the guilt of an accused

     person  in a criminal case.  As Kentridge AJ at paragraph

     25  pointed out, “the presumption of innocence is derived

     from   the   centuries-old  principle  of  English   law,

     forcefully  restated by Viscount Sankey in his celebrated

     speech  in  Woolmington v Director of Public Prosecutions

     (1935)  AC  462  (HL) at 481, that it is always  for  the

     prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person, and

     that  the proof must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

     The  rights  to  be presumed innocent, to  remain  silent

     during  trial and not to be a compellable witness against

     oneself  are  entrenched in sections  25(3)(c)  and  (d).

     Constitutional  recognition of these rights  in  criminal

     trials  means that statutory erosion of these rights  and

     principles can no longer be accepted without question  as

     they  were  before  this Constitution  came  into  force;

     statutory   presumptions  and  other  legislation   which

     adversely  affect the rights entrenched in Chapter  3  of

     the  Constitution will now have to meet  the  limitations

     criteria of section 33(1) of the Constitution.  (See S  v

     Makwanyane  and Another 1995(3) SA 391 (CC);1995(6)  BCLR

     665  (CC)  at  paragraphs 100 and 156;  S v Williams  and

     Others  1995(3)  SA 632 (CC); 1995(7) BCLR  861  (CC)  at

     paragraphs  8  and 54; S v Bhulwana; S v Gwadiso  1996(1)

     SALR  388 (CC); 1995(12) BCLR 1579 (CC) at paragraph 16.)

     This  Court  held in Zuma’s case that the presumption  of

     innocence was infringed by the provision which imposed an

     onus on the accused to disprove the voluntariness of  the

     confession.

 

[8]  In  S  v  Bhulwana;  S  v Gwadiso supra  this  Court  was

     concerned with a provision in  Section 21(1)(a)(i) of the

     Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 which required

     that  an  accused  who  was  proved  to  be  in  unlawful

     possession  of dagga in excess of 115 grams be  presumed,

     “until  the  contrary is proved,” to be dealing  in  such

     dagga.  The  effect of the presumption was  that  if  the

     accused   failed   to   prove  on  a   preponderance   of

     probabilities  that  he  or  she  was  not   dealing   or

     trafficking  in  dagga, a conviction  for  dealing  would

     result, even if the evidence raised a reasonable doubt as

     to  the  innocence of such accused.  O’Regan J (paragraph

     15)  pointed out on behalf of a unanimous court that  the

     presumption of innocence was not new to our legal  system

     but  was in fact an established principle of our law. She

     referred, inter alia, to the general rule restated by the

     Appellate Division in R v Ndhlovu 1945 AD 369 at 386 that

     “[i]n all criminal cases it is for the Crown to establish

     the  guilt  of  the  accused,  not  for  the  accused  to

     establish  his innocence.  The onus is on  the  Crown  to

     prove  all  averments to establish his guilt.”  The  only

     common law exception recognised was a defence of insanity

     which had to be proved by the accused.

 

[9]  It  is  now  well established that the enquiry  into  the

     constitutionality  of the impugned section  involves  two

     stages. Firstly, whether the section is inconsistent with

     a  fundamental  right  contained  in  Chapter  3  of  the

     Constitution;   if  it  is, then  secondly,  whether  the

     inconsistency is saved in terms of section 33(1)  of  the

     Constitution. In argument before us, the State was unable

     to  indicate any reason for departing from the principles

     expressed in the first stage of the enquiry in S v  Zuma.

     It was common cause that the provision amounts to a legal

     presumption;  it  is   a reverse onus  provision.   As  a

     presumption, it has similar features to that discussed in

     Bhulwana’s  case.   The effect of  the  provision  is  to

     relieve  the  prosecution of  the burden  of  proof  with

     regard  to  an  essential  element  of  the  offence.  It

     requires that the presumed fact must be disproved by  the

     accused  on a balance of probabilities. (See  R  v  Bolon

     supra  at  360-1;   S v Nene and Others  (2)  1979(2)  SA

     521(D)  at 523H; S v Mkanzi en ‘n Ander 1979(2) SA 757(T)

     at  758H;  S v Mphahlele supra 512B;  S v  Zuma supra  at

     paragraph  4).  As pointed out by O’Regan J in Bhulwana’s

     case  (paragraph 15), a presumption of this nature is  in

     breach  of  the presumption of innocence since  it  could

     result in the conviction of an accused person despite the

     existence of a reasonable doubt as to his or her guilt.

 

[10] No legal system can guarantee that no innocent person can

     ever  be  convicted.  Indeed, the provision of corrective

     action  by  way  of  appeal and review procedures  is  an

     acknowledgement  of  the  ever-present   possibility   of

     judicial fallibility.  Yet it is one thing for the law to

     acknowledge  the  possibility  of  wrongly  but  honestly

     convicting  the  innocent  and then  provide  appropriate

     measures  to reduce the possibility of this happening  as

     far  as  is practicable; it is another for the law itself

     to  heighten the possibility of a miscarriage of  justice

     by  compelling  the  trial  court  to  convict  where  it

     entertains  real  doubts as to culpability  and  then  to

     prevent  the reviewing court from altering the conviction

     even if it shares in the doubts.

 

[11] Counsel   for  the  applicants  also  argued   that   the

     presumption violated the privilege or rule against  self-

     incrimination.   This was disputed by the  State  on  the

     basis  that  the  accused  was  not  compelled  to   give

     evidence,    self-incriminatory   or   otherwise.     The

     Constitution  does  not  mention  a  right  or  privilege

     against self-incrimination expressly, but the cluster  of

     ‘fair  trial’  rights guaranteed in section 25(3)(c)  and

     (d) of the Constitution includes the right of the accused

     “to  remain silent during plea proceedings or  trial  and

     not  to testify during trial ... [and] ...  not to  be  a

     compellable  witness  against himself  or  herself.”   In

     Ferreira and Others v Levin and Others CCT/5/95 (judgment

     delivered  on 6 December 1995), this Court (per Ackermann

     J at paragraph 79 and Chaskalson P at paragraph 159) held

     that  a  right against self-incrimination is implicit  in

     the  provisions  of  section 25(3) of  the  Constitution.

     However,  because of the view I take with regard  to  the

     decisiveness  of  the presumption of innocence  for  this

     enquiry,  it  is  unnecessary,  for  purposes   of   this

     judgment, to canvass the precise scope of  such right  or

     privilege  or  its  applicability to  the  facts  of  the

     present case.

 

[12] The  conclusion  I come to, therefore,  is  that  section

     40(1)  of the Act offends against the right of an accused

     person  to  be  presumed innocent, in terms  of   section

     25(3)(c)   of   the  Constitution.   The  provision   can

     accordingly   only be permissible if it is saved  by  the

     provisions of section 33(1) of the Constitution.

 

[13] Section  33(1)  of the Constitution,  in  so  far  as  it

     applies to section 25(3),  provides as follows:

 

          The  rights entrenched in this Chapter  may  be

          limited by law of general application, provided

          that such limitation  -

               (a)  shall  be permissible only to  the  extent

that it is  -

                    (i) reasonable; and

                    (ii)justifiable  in   an   open   and

                    democratic  society based on  freedom

                    and equality; and

               (b)   shall   not   negate   the

               essential  content of the  right

               in question,

          and ... shall ... also be necessary.

 

[14] In  S v Makwanyane supra, Chaskalson P (at paragraph 104)

     stated  that  the  enquiry involves the  weighing  up  of

     competing  values and ultimately an assessment  based  on

     proportionality. He named the factors to be considered in

     this  process as including: the wider implications  which

     the  right  has for our society (‘an open and  democratic

     society based on freedom and equality’); the purpose  for

     which  the  right  is  limited; the  importance  of  that

     purpose to our society; the extent of the limitation  and

     its efficacy and, in cases where the limitation has to be

     necessary, whether the objectives of the limitation could

     reasonably  be  achieved by means less  damaging  to  the

     right.

 

[15] The  State  argued that  the inroads which section  40(1)

     of  the  Act   makes on the presumption of innocence  are

     reasonable,  justifiable and necessary and that  they  do

     not  negate the essential content of the right.   Relying

     on  remarks in S v Zuma supra (at paragraph 41),  it  was

     argued  that  the reverse onus provisions in the  present

     case   are  justifiable  and  therefore  constitutionally

     permissible.   In the passage referred to,  Kentridge  AJ

     pointed out that the effect of the judgment in that  case

     was  not  to invalidate every legal presumption reversing

     the   onus  of  proof  as  some  presumptions   “may   be

     justifiable  as  being rational in themselves,  requiring

     an  accused person to prove only facts to which he or she

     has  easy  access, and which it would be unreasonable  to

     expect  the prosecution to disprove ... Or there  may  be

     presumptions which are necessary if certain offences  are

     to  be  effectively prosecuted, and the State is able  to

     show  that  for  good  reason it cannot  be  expected  to

     produce  the  evidence itself ...”  The State   contended

     that   circumstances existed which rendered section 40(1)

     of  the  Act justifiable, regard being had to the context

     and the manner in which its provisions were implemented.

 

[16] The  State characterised the objective of the presumption

     in  the present case as being to assist in combating  the

     escalating  levels of crime as part of  the  government’s

     duty  to  protect society generally.  The contention  was

     that  the  provision  is  intended  to  ensure  effective

     policing   and  to  facilitate  the  investigation    and

     prosecution of crime as well as to ease the prosecution’s

     task of securing convictions for contraventions under the

     Act.   Such  an  objective  is  truly  laudable  and  its

     importance, in the current climate of very high levels of

     violent  crime,  cannot  be overstated.   Information  in

     papers  submitted  to us reveals that during  the  period

     1990  to 1994, there was a distressing increase in crimes

     of  violence.  The common denominator in most of them  is

     the  involvement  of firearms.  In a discussion  document

     titled:  Recent Crime Trends, Dr Lorraine  Glanz  of  the

     Human  Sciences Research Council observed that “the  face

     of  crime  is  becoming  increasingly  violent  and  more

     serious,” and that the rampant crime levels must have  “a

     profound  negative  effect on  the  quality  of  life  in

     communities. If left unchecked, a protracted increase  in

     violent  crime  in  particular  is  a  threat  to  social

     stability.”  I  could  not agree  more.  A  further  ugly

     feature  allied  to the actual deeds of violence  is  the

     incidence  of  illegal smuggling, sale and possession  of

     arms.  We  were told that trafficking in arms  and  drugs

     from  neighbouring countries into South Africa is  taking

     place on a significant scale. There is a proliferation of

     illegal  firearms  throughout the country  and  this,  no

     doubt,  contributes  in  no small  measure  to  the  high

     incidence  of  violent crime. This state  of  affairs  is

     obviously a matter of serious concern, not only  for  the

     courts,  but  for  the legislature, the  police  and  the

     entire population which is affected by it.  There  is  no

     doubt  that,  whatever  the causes,  crimes  of  violence

     particularly  those involving firearms  have  reached  an

     intolerably   high  level  and  that  urgent   corrective

     measures are warranted.

 

[17] The problems which the government has to contend with  in

     fulfilling its duty to protect society were given  to  us

     in  some  detail. We were informed that the detection  of

     people  in  possession of illegal arms and ammunition  is

     often very difficult.  Police have to depend on informers

     or  pure chance to trace offenders.  The use of informers

     who  infiltrate gun-smuggling networks is a  helpful  but

     often   time-consuming and dangerous process.  Gunrunners

     make extensive use of couriers to transport arms; some of

     the  couriers,  especially women and children,  are  used

     without their knowledge. Even vehicles such as ambulances

     and  official government cars are sometimes used, without

     the  people  in  control  of  the  vehicles  knowing  it.

     Sometimes aircraft and motor vehicles equipped with false

     panels  and  compartments for storage  are  used  in  the

     illegal  transportation of arms. The problem of  policing

     is  compounded  by geographical factors; the  borders  of

     South  Africa  are  extensive and  impossible  to  patrol

     effectively 24 hours a day, making it easier  for  cross-

     border  dealers and smugglers of arms to ply their  trade

     and  evade  detection.  The severe  shortage  of  trained

     personnel  has  adverse effects on the  capacity  of  the

     police  to  conduct  raids and searches  in  places  like

     hostels and informal settlements, to look for places used

     for  concealment  of  illegal  arms  and  to  trap  motor

     vehicles  used  in illegal conveyance of  arms.  Ordinary

     members  of  the  community  often  withhold  information

     because  they are too terrified and intimidated by  armed

     gangsters  and traffickers in narcotic drugs and  illegal

     arms.

 

[18] It  is difficult not to have sympathy for representations

     of  this nature, coming as they do from officials of  the

     State  whose  task it is to deal with what has  become  a

     truly serious problem. These are real and pressing social

     concerns  and  it  is  imperative that  proper  attention

     should   be   given  to  finding  urgent  and   effective

     solutions.  The issue before us, however, is  not  simply

     whether  there  is a pressing social need to  combat  the

     crimes  of violence - there clearly is - but also whether

     the  instrument to be used in meeting this need is itself

     fashioned in accordance with specifications permitted  by

     the  Constitution.   Although the   relevant  legislative

     provision  was enacted before the Constitution came  into

     force,  the enquiry is whether the limitation it  imposes

     on  constitutionally protected rights is consistent  with

     the  provisions  of  the Constitution.  This  involves  a

     consideration  of  the  other  factors  referred  to   in

     Makwanyane’s  case, and in particular, the importance  of

     the impugned right in an open and democratic society, and

     the  extent  to  which that right has  been  limited.  As

     O’Regan  J said in S v Bhulwana supra (at paragraph  18),

     “the more substantial the inroad into fundamental rights,

     the more persuasive the ground of justification must be.”

 

[19] The   presumption  of  innocence  is  clearly  of   vital

     importance  in  the establishment and maintenance  of  an

     open   and  democratic  society  based  on  freedom   and

     equality.  If, in particular cases, what is effectively a

     presumption  of  guilt  is  to  be  substituted  for  the

     presumption of innocence, the justification for doing  so

     must be established clearly and convincingly.

 

[20] It  was  argued that without the presumption it would  be

     almost  impossible for the prosecution to prove both  the

     mental  and physical elements of possession.   I  do  not

     agree.   The  circumstances of each case  will  determine

     whether  or  not  the  elements of possession  have  been

     established  beyond reasonable doubt.  The evidence  need

     not  necessarily  be direct.  It may be,  and  often  is,

     circumstantial and will often be sufficient to  secure  a

     conviction  without  the assistance of  the  presumption.

     There  will  no  doubt  be cases  in  which  it  will  be

     difficult to prove that a particular person against  whom

     the  presumption  would have operated,  was  in  fact  in

     possession of the prohibited article.  If that person was

     in  fact  guilty,  the absence of the  presumption  might

     enable  him  or  her to escape conviction.  But  this  is

     inevitably a consequence of the presumption of innocence;

     this  must  be  weighed against the danger that  innocent

     people may be convicted if the presumption were to apply.

     In  that  process the rights of innocent persons must  be

     given precedence.  After all, the consequences of a wrong

     conviction  are  not  trivial.   Apart  from  the  social

     disapprobation  attached  to  it,  heavy  penalties   are

     attached  to  contraventions of the Act.   In  the  cases

     before  us,  the sentence prescribed by the Act  for  the

     illegal  possession  of a firearm is imprisonment  for  a

     period  not  exceeding 25 years with a  minimum  of  five

     years.   Illegal  possession  of  ammunition  attracts  a

     sentence  of  imprisonment for a period not exceeding  25

     years.

 

[21] The  presumption is couched in wide terms and no  attempt

     has been made to

     tune  its provisions finely so as to make them consistent

     with  the  Constitution and to avoid  the  real  risk  of

     convicting  innocent persons, who happen  to  be  in  the

     wrong  place  at the wrong time. It may be invoked  in  a

     wide  range  of circumstances and against any  number  of

     categories of persons, as long as they have been  in,  on

     or  at  a  particular  place at the relevant  time.   The

     presumption  becomes  operative without  the  prosecution

     being required to show any connection between the accused

     and  the prohibited article, and between such accused and

     the place where the article was. “Premises” is defined in

     the  section as including “any building, dwelling,  flat,

     room,  office,  shop,  structure,  vessel,  aircraft   or

     vehicle or any part thereof”.  The provision targets “any

     person” who was in, on or at the premises at the relevant

     time, regardless of that person’s possible connection (or

     lack  of  it)  with  such premises. It also  targets  any

     person  in  charge of or occupying the premises,  however

     remote  his  or  her connection with the particular  part

     thereof  where  the offending article is proved  to  have

     been. Indeed, it very much looks as if the intention  was

     to  override  the restrictions read into  that  section’s

     forerunner in cases like S v Mnguni supra.

 

[22] The  application of the presumption does  not  depend  on

     there being a logical or rational connection between  the

     presumed fact and the basic facts proved, nor can  it  be

     claimed that in all cases covered by the presumption, the

     presumed fact is something which is more likely than  not

     to  arise from the basic facts proved.  The mere presence

     of the accused in, on or at the premises at the same time

     as  the  prohibited  article does not,  as  a  matter  of

     course,  give rise to the inference of possession.  There

     are  clearly circumstances where this connection  can  be

     reasonably sustained.  Circumstances may even arise where

     such an adverse inference would be warranted without  the

     accused  having been present in, on or at the  particular

     premises when the firearm was found. An example is a case

     where  it  is  proved beyond a reasonable  doubt  that  a

     firemarm  was found in the glove compartment of a  locked

     car which had been driven by its owner and in which there

     had  been  no  passengers.  If the accused’s  exculpatory

     version  is  found to be false (also beyond a  reasonable

     doubt),  the conviction would be defensible.  That  would

     be  so, not because of the presumption created by section

     40(1)  of  the Act, but as a matter of logical inference.

     The  problem  with the provision is that it  contains  no

     inherent mechanism to exclude those who are innocent  and

     who  would  otherwise be included within its reach.   If,

     for  example,  a single firearm were to  be  found  on  a

     crowded bus, each passenger on the bus would be liable to

     be  arrested and prosecuted, and would be presumed guilty

     unless he or she were able to establish innocence.

 

[23] Counsel  for the State claimed that in practice,  use  of

     the  presumption does not lead to absurd results  because

     it  is  applied with circumspection by prosecutors.   The

     contention  is not convincing  for a number  of  reasons.

     First,  there  is nothing to suggest that prosecutors  in

     general and around the country agree with the view or, if

     they do, that it is invariably implemented.  If a general

     directive to that effect has been issued, it has not been

     mentioned in argument.  In the second instance,  even  if

     one  were  to accept that prosecutors adhere  to  such  a

     policy  there is no evidence that the police do  so.   On

     the  contrary, counsel for the State submitted  that  the

     breadth  of  the presumption was a valuable investigative

     tool because it enabled the police to detain anyone found

     in the vicinity of an unlicensed firearm for questioning.

     Quite  apart from the fact that the legality of detention

     for questioning may be suspect, and its constitutionality

     the more so, the submission underscores the fact that the

     very breadth of the presumption is regarded by the police

     as  warranting  the blanket arrest of groups  of  persons

     without any suspicion that each of them has committed any

     offence.  In  S v Shange and Others 1994(1) SACR  621(N),

     for  instance, the police actually arrested  and  charged

     the  eight  appellants who were passengers in  a  vehicle

     from which a firearm and ammunition were thrown out as it

     approached a police roadblock. The prosecution  proceeded

     against them and they were all convicted, on the basis of

     the  presumption,  notwithstanding the fact that each one

     of  them   gave  evidence denying any  knowledge  of  the

     articles  in question.  Apart from having been  attending

     the  same tribal celebration at a certain kraal  and  the

     fact that they had all spontaneously clambered on to  the

     vehicle  simply because it was going in their  direction,

     there  was nothing  connecting them with each other,  nor

     was  there any evidence of any link between each  one  of

     them  and  the articles concerned. It was only  when  the

     appeal  was  heard by the  Provincial Division  that  the

     convictions   were  reversed  on  the  basis   that   the

     appellants had, in fact, discharged the onus cast on them

     by  virtue  of  the presumption.  One can readily  accept

     that  police  conducting a raid of  a  hostel  are  in  a

     quandary  when  they find a firearm in a  place  with  no

     apparent link with any of the hostel-dwellers; or as  the

     State suggested  in argument, when a firearm was found in

     a  vehicle wreck in the courtyard.  One must also accept,

     as  has been done in paragraphs 16 to 18 above, that  the

     eradication  of  the  cancer of  illegal  firearms  is  a

     pressing   public  concern  calling  for   vigorous   and

     concerted  effort.   Nevertheless  such  concern   cannot

     render the wholesale arrest of ostensibly innocent people

     either   reasonable  or  justifiable  in  an   open   and

     democratic   society  based  on  freedom  and   equality.

     Thirdly, and in itself conclusively, it is clear that the

     presumption  could  lead  to the conviction  of  innocent

     persons.  Their rights are enshrined in the  Constitution

     and  do not depend on the discretion of the police or the

     attorney-general  to prosecute only in  cases  where  the

     accused  are  in  fact guilty.  If  the  police  and  the

     attorney-general  are  satisfied  of  the  guilt  of  the

     accused,  they should be able to establish  this  in  the

     ordinary way.

 

[24] If  the  purpose  of  the provision  is  to  promote  the

     legitimate   law  enforcement  objective  of   separating

     innocent bystanders from genuine suspects, then it should

     be cast in terms limited to serving that function only. A

     legislative limitation motivated by strong societal  need

     should  not  be  disproportionate in its  impact  to  the

     purpose for which that right is limited.  If restrictions

     are  warranted  by  such societal need,  they  should  be

     properly   focused  and  appropriately   balanced.    The

     foundations  of  effective  law  enforcement   procedures

     should always be the thorough collection of evidence  and

     the  careful  presentation of a  prosecution  case.   The

     sweeping  terms  of  the presumption, however,  encourage

     dragnet  searches  followed by  dragnet  prosecutions  in

     which  innocent bystanders, occupants and travellers  can

     be  required  to  prove their innocence  and  the  normal

     checks  and  balances  operating at the  pre-trial  stage

     cease  to operate.  Immense discretionary power is  given

     to   the  police,  in  the  first  instance  and  to  the

     prosecuting authorities thereafter, as to whether or  not

     to  proceed with arrest and indictment.  From a practical

     point  of  view, the focus of crucial decision-making  on

     guilt  or innocence thus shifts from the constitutionally

     controlled   context  of  a  trial  to  the  unrestrained

     discretion  of  police and prosecutor.   The  possibility

     cannot be excluded that overworked police and prosecuting

     authorities would understandably be tempted to  focus  on

     merely   getting  sufficient  evidence   to   raise   the

     presumption of possession; they can then rely on  a  poor

     showing  by  the accused in the witness box to  secure  a

     conviction.    Yet   the  law  gives   no   guidance   to

     investigators   and  prosecutors  as  to   when   it   is

     appropriate to rely on the presumption to proceed with  a

     case  and when not.  Innocent persons may be put  to  the

     inconvenience,  indignity and expense of a  trial  simply

     because  they  were in a bus, on a ship, or  in  a  taxi,

     restaurant  or  house  where  weapons  happened   to   be

     discovered.   At  the  same  time,  the  objectivity  and

     professionalism   of  the  police  and  prosecution   are

     undermined  by the lack of principled criteria  governing

     their  actions.  In my view, in order to catch  offenders

     and  secure  their convictions, it is not reasonable  and

     justifiable either to expose honest citizens to such open-

     ended    jeopardy   or   to   impose   such   ill-defined

     responsibility upon those charged with law enforcement.

 

[25] The  presumption is not only too wide in its  application

     with  regard to persons, it also casts a heavy burden  on

     those  who are caught by it to disprove guilt. The  facts

     in  the case of S v Mtshemla and Others 1994(1) SACR  518

     (A)  give some indication of the seriousness of the  task

     facing an accused person if he or she is to discharge the

     burden  of  proof.   Of  the  three  persons  accused  of

     possession of one firearm, in that matter, two elected to

     give  evidence to rebut the presumption.  They were  both

     convicted, the magistrate ruling that their evidence  was

     insufficient to dislodge the presumption. The third,  who

     had  decided  to remain silent was also convicted,  there

     being nothing in his case to gainsay the presumption.  In

     another  case, that of S v Makunga and Others 1977(1)  SA

     685   AD,  the  remarks  of  Wessels  JA  (at  699A)  are

     illustrative  of  some of the problems  inherent  in  the

     practical application of the presumption:

     

          ...  [T]here  was an onus on each  one  of  the

          seven  accused  to establish by a preponderance

          of  probabilities that he was not in possession

          of  any  one of the six firearms found  in  the

          hut.  In  my  opinion, no one  of  the  accused

          succeeded in discharging that onus.   The  mere

          fact  that on the evidence it was probable that

          one  unidentified accused was in possession  of

          the  toy  pistol  is  wholly  insufficient   to

          discharge the onus which rested on each one  of

          the seven accused.

 

 

[26] Based  on the assessment of the potential effect  of  the

     provision on innocent people, I am not persuaded that the

     presumption, as it stands, satisfies the requirements  of

     reasonableness  and justifiability.  I  am  fortified  in

     this  conclusion by the fact that it has  also  not  been

     demonstrated  that its objective, that  is,  facilitating

     the  conviction  of offenders, could not reasonably  have

     been   achieved   by   other  means  less   damaging   to

     constitutionally entrenched rights.  Although the  choice

     of  the appropriate measures to address the need is  that

     of  the  legislature,  it  has not  been  shown  that  an

     evidentiary  burden,  for  example,  would  not   be   as

     effective.  I should not be understood as suggesting that

     any    provision   imposing   an   evidentiary    burden,

     particularly   if  it  is  framed  as  broadly   as   the

     presumption  in  the present case, would be  immune  from

     constitutional  attack. But by requiring the  accused  to

     provide evidence sufficient to raise a reasonable  doubt,

     such   a   provision  would  be  of  assistance  to   the

     prosecution  whilst at the same time being less  invasive

     of  section  25(3) rights. That it might  impact  on  the

     right of an accused person to remain silent is true;  but

     on  the  assumption  that the rampant criminal  abuse  of

     lethal weapons in many parts of our country would justify

     some  measured re-thinking about time-honoured rules  and

     procedures, some limitation on the right to silence might

     be   more  defensible  than  the  present  one   on   the

     presumption of innocence.  The accused could of course be

     exposed to the risk of being convicted if he or she fails

     to  offer  an explanation which could reasonably possibly

     be true, regarding physical association with the weapons;

     there  would  however be no legal presumption  overriding

     any  doubts that the court might have.  At the end of the

     day  and taking into account all the evidence, the  court

     would  still  have  to be convinced beyond  a  reasonable

     doubt that the accused was indeed guilty.

 

[27] I   accordingly  find  that  although  the  provision  in

     question is a law of general application, it has not been

     shown  to  be reasonable as required by section 33(1)  of

     the Constitution.  It is furthermore so inconsistent with

     the  values which underlie an open and democratic society

     based  on freedom and equality that it cannot be said  to

     be  justifiable.   In  view of this finding,  it  is  not

     necessary  to canvass the question whether the  essential

     content of the right is negated, nor whether the limiting

     provision  is  necessary within the  meaning  of  section

     33(1)  of the Constitution.  Section 40(1) of the Act  is

     unconstitutional  inasmuch as it is an  unreasonable  and

     unjustifiable violation of the presumption of innocence.

 

[28] During argument, some time was devoted to a question that

     keeps  cropping up in matters before us and that  is  the

     problem  of improper referrals.  This Court has expressed

     itself  on  a  number of occasions on the correctness  or

     otherwise of  referrals made under section 102(1) of  the

     Constitution. Some of the remarks need to be repeated. In

     Zuma’s case at paragraph 10, Kentridge AJ points out that

     “[e]ven  if a rapid resort to this Court were convenient,

     that  would  not  relieve the Judge from making  his  own

     decision   on   a   constitutional   issue   within   his

     jurisdiction.”  In S v Mhlungu and Others 1995(3) SA  867

     (CC); 1995(7) BCLR 793(CC) at paragraph 59, Kentridge  AJ

     cautioned  against premature referrals to this Court  and

     observed:

          The   fact   that  an  issue  within   the

          exclusive   jurisdiction  of  this   court

          arises  in a provincial or local  division

          does not necessitate an immediate referral

          to  this court.  Even if the issue appears

          to be a substantial one, the court hearing

          the case is required to refer it only

 

          (i)  if  the issue is one which may be decisive  for

               the case; and

          (ii) if  it  considers it to be in the  interest  of

               justice to do so ...

 

          ...  I would lay it down as a general principle

          that  where it is possible to decide any  case,

          civil   or   criminal,   without   reaching   a

          constitutional issue, that is the course  which

          should be followed.

 

 

[29] It  is by no means clear whether or not the conviction of

     Mbatha  was  on the basis of the presumption  in  section

     40(1)  of the Act; nor is it clear that this is a  matter

     which  could  not have been disposed of without  reaching

     the constitutional issue.  The referral was therefore not

     a proper one. During argument, counsel for this applicant

     made an oral request from the bar for “direct access”  in

     terms  of  Rule 17 of the Rules of this Court, read  with

     section 100(2) of the Constitution.  The application  was

     not  opposed.   “Direct access” provisions have  received

     their fair share of attention in this Court. As stated in

     Zuma’s case at paragraph 11, what is contemplated is that

     direct  access  should  be  allowed  “in  only  the  most

     exceptional cases, and it is certainly not intended to be

     used to legitimate an incompetent reference.” In terms of

     Rule  17(1),  the special circumstances envisaged   “will

     ordinarily  exist  only  where  the  matter  is  of  such

     urgency, or otherwise of such public importance, that the

     delay  necessitated by the use of the ordinary procedures

     would prejudice the public interest or prejudice the ends

     of  justice and good government.”  Clarity with regard to

     the  presumption is of immense public importance.   There

     are any number of trials either pending or proceeding, in

     which  the presumption is liable to be invoked.    It  is

     therefore  necessary  that  legal  certainty  should   be

     achieved as soon as possible.   I am accordingly  of  the

     view  that this is a matter in which direct access should

     be  granted.   Because Prinsloo's case was concerned with

     an identical issue, the two matters were set down for one

     date.   Both sets of counsel prepared exhaustive and very

     helpful argument and the two matters were argued together

     before  us.  The  issue  in Prinsloo’s  case  is  clearly

     decisive for the case with regard to some of the accused.

     Flemming  DJP  considered it to be in  the  interests  of

     justice  for the issue to be referred and cogent  reasons

     have been furnished to support the referral. The issue in

     Prinsloo’s  case  was,   in  the circumstances,  properly

     before this Court.

 

[30] I  now  turn to consider the appropriate order.   Section

     98(5)  of the Constitution empowers this Court to suspend

     a  declaration of invalidity “in the interests of justice

     and good government” until Parliament corrects the defect

     in  the  legislation  concerned. The  effect  of  such  a

     suspension  would be to prolong the risk  inherent  in  a

     reverse  onus provision until the legislature intervenes.

     What  this amounts to is that an unsatisfactory state  of

     affairs, where accused persons could be convicted despite

     the existence of a reasonable doubt, would be allowed  to

     continue  until new legislation is enacted to  deal  with

     the  issue.  There  is no knowing when  this  legislative

     intervention  might come. On the other hand,  should  the

     declaration of invalidity operate with immediate  effect,

     the prosecution would be able to deal with contraventions

     of  the  Act  in  the  normal manner,  as  in  all  other

     prosecutions where there is no reliance on a presumption.

     There  do  not appear to be any compelling considerations

     of   “justice  and  good government” requiring  that  the

     infringement  of  this constitutionally  protected  right

     should  continue beyond the date of this  order.  On  the

     contrary,  it  would be undesirable  for  the  courts  to

     continue   applying  a  provision  which  is   not   only

     manifestly  unconstitutional, but which also  results  in

     grave  consequences for potentially innocent  persons  in

     view of the serious penalties prescribed.

 

[31] Section  98(6)(a)  of  the Constitution  prescribes  that

     unless  this Court orders otherwise, in the interests  of

     justice  and  good  government, the order  of  invalidity

     shall  not invalidate anything done or permitted in terms

     of the unconstitutional provision.  In Mbatha’s case, the

     matter  is on appeal to the Witwatersrand Local  Division

     and  that  court will be able to take this  judgment  and

     order into account when it proceeds with the matter.   In

     Prinsloo’s  case,  the  trial is still  in  progress  and

     giving  effect to the order should present  no  problems.

     The order made should, however, be operative in the cases

     of  any  other  litigants who might be similarly  placed.

     The general considerations set out above were present  in

     Bhulwana’s case supra and I see no reason to depart  from

     the  approach adopted by this Court in that matter.   The

     order  that I propose to make will protect not  only  the

     rights  of accused persons in pending cases (S v  Mhlungu

     supra  at  paragraph  48), but also  the  rights  of  the

     persons referred to in paragraph two of the Order.

 

[32] Flemming  DJP  has  pointed out  that  a  declaration  of

     invalidity by this Court would not,  in itself,   entitle

     the  trial  Judge to immediately discharge those  accused

     who  would have been acquitted at the end of the case for

     the prosecution but for the operation of the presumption.

     His  view is that he is functus officio and cannot recall

     his  judgment; consequently, the applicant  Prinsloo  and

     the  relevant  co-accused would be forced to  endure  the

     unsatisfactory prospect of continuing to be  part of  the

     trial which still has a long way to go before conclusion.

     The Judge therefore proposed that if the presumption were

     found  to be unconstitutional, this Court should make  an

     appropriate order to enable the trial court  to  end  the

     proceedings   against   those  who   should   have   been

     discharged. I express no opinion on whether  or  not  the

     trial  Judge is functus officio as regards the particular

     issue.  This is a matter entirely within his jurisdiction

     which  he must determine on a proper construction of  the

     relevant provisions.  It was not argued before us that we

     had  the  jurisdiction to set aside the judgment  of  the

     trial court refusing to discharge Prinsloo. The Attorney-

     General   of   the  Transvaal,  however,  gave   a   firm

     undertaking  during argument that should the  presumption

     be   declared   unconstitutional  he   would   stop   the

     prosecution  against the relevant accused.  It  therefore

     becomes unnecessary to take this matter any further.

 

[33] Finally, I wish to express the Court's appreciation to Mr

     M  R  Hellens  SC and Mr P R Jammy who assisted  him  for

     preparing  and  presenting  argument  on  behalf  of  the

     applicant in the first case at the request of the Court.

 

[34] The following order is accordingly made:

 

     1.    Section 40(1) of the Arms and Ammunition Act 75  of

     1969  is  inconsistent with the Republic of South  Africa

     Constitution Act 200 of 1993 and is, with effect from the

     date of this judgment, invalid and of no force or effect.

 

     2.    In terms of section 98(6) of the Constitution, this

     declaration   of   invalidity   shall   invalidate    any

     application  of section 40(1) of the Arms and  Ammunition

     Act 75 of 1969 in any criminal trial in which the verdict

     of  the  trial  court was or will be  entered  after  the

     Constitution  came into force, and in which,  as  at  the

     date  of  this  judgment, either an appeal or  review  is

     pending  or the time for noting such appeal has  not  yet

     expired.

 

     3.    The  matters  of S v Mbatha and S  v  Prinsloo  are

     referred back to the Witwatersrand Local Division of  the

     Supreme  Court to be dealt with in accordance  with  this

     judgment.

 

 

 

 

PN Langa, Judge of the Constitutional Court

 

Chaskalson  P, Mahomed DP, Ackermann J, Didcott  J,  Kentridge

AJ,  Kriegler J, Madala J, Mokgoro J, O’Regan J  and  Sachs  J

concur in the judgment of Langa J.

 

 

 

 

 

COUNSEL FOR APPLICANT:             M R Hellens SC

                              P  R Jammy    At the request  of

                              the court

 

          

 

 

COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT:            J A van S D’Oliviera

                              E Leonard

                              E Erasmus

 

INSTRUCTED BY: Attorney- General of the Witwatersrand

 

CASE NO:                                          CCT 35/95

 

COUNSEL FOR APPLICANT:             L van der Walt

 

 

INSTRUCTED BY:                  Odendal    and

                              Kruger, Delmas

 

COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT:            R J Chinner

                              J A L Pretorius

                         

DATE OF HEARING: 16 November 1996

 

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 9 February 1996