Legal wrangle over stolen laptop, unlawful arrest claims finally ends in Supreme Court of Appeal

The SCA has finally resolved the matter of a stolen laptop and claims of unlawful arrest.

The SCA has finally resolved the matter of a stolen laptop and claims of unlawful arrest.
PHOTO: Ben Bezuidenhout, GroundUp, Wikimedia, file
  • An Eastern Cape man has lost his appeal against the Minister of Police.
  • The man instituted a damages claim against the minister for unlawful arrest, saying that the police did not have a warrant.
  • But the appeal court found that the arrest, without a warrant, was justified. 

An Eastern Cape man who instituted a damages claim against the Minister of Police for unlawful arrest, has lost his appeal.

Earl Rensburg, who was arrested more than five years ago for allegedly admitting to stealing a laptop, dragged the minister to court, where he claimed police arrested and detained him without a warrant.

He argued that his arrest and detention was wrongful, unlawful and unjustified.

He also alleged that his detention after his court appearance, which continued for nine days until his release on a warning, was wrongful, unlawful and unjustified. But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein disagreed with him.

It found that his arrest without a warrant was justified.

According to court papers, the three men who alleged that Rensburg had stolen a laptop, took him to the Humewood police station.

The men spoke to an officer, identified in court papers as Sergeant Cimani, who demanded that the owner of the laptop be brought to her to be interviewed and to confirm that the laptop had been stolen.

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The laptop owner confirmed that Rensburg admitted to her that he had stolen it and that he had apologised.

Without a warrant, the officer arrested and detained Rensburg in terms of the provisions of Section 40(1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) 51 of 1977.

After his release on a warning, Rensburg instituted a delictual claim for damages for his alleged unlawful arrest and detention in the Port Elizabeth Regional Court against the Minister of Police and the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

The magistrate found in his favour and awarded him R300 000 in damages.

Dissatisfied with the decision, the NDPP and the minister appealed the decision to the Eastern Cape High Court in Grahamstown and were successful.

Rensburg decided to approach the SCA to appeal the High Court’s decision.

The appeal court found that the arresting officer’s “suspicions were rested on reasonable grounds; and that the minister could, therefore, not be held liable for the contended damages resulting in Mr Rensburg’s alleged wrongful, unlawful and unjustified arrest”.

The SCA found that the police did not act unlawfully in detaining Rensburg.

It said Rensburg was brought to court within a reasonable time and that the 48-hour period referred to in terms of Section 50 of the CPA had not yet expired.

It found that further police actions after Rensburg’s first appearance were also not unlawful.

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“This was because, inter alia, the issue of Mr Rensburg’s previous convictions had still not been resolved and his address had not been verified, with the result that he could not, therefore, be considered for bail until these issues had been resolved. Once those outstanding issues had been resolved, and the undertaking given to the court by his cousin to reside with her, the court, in the exercise of its discretion, released him on warning.”

Therefore, the court found that the minister did not act unreasonably, wrongfully or unlawfully in depriving Rensburg of his liberty.