SA JAGTER/HUNTER | JULIE 2022 | SAJWV

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KONSTITUSIONELE HOF SE UITSPRAAK IN FIDELITY-SAAK

Die Konstitusionele Hof het op 27 Mei 2022 uitspraak in die veelbesproke Fidelity-saak gelewer. Hierdie belangrike uitspraak vir wapeneienaars het baie aandag ontvang. Ongelukkig is die situasie nie so eenvoudig soos soms voorgehou word nie, naamlik dat elke persoon wie se vuurwapenlisensie verval, nou mag aansoek doen om ’n nuwe een en dit wel sal kry. Die kwessie is heelwat meer ingewikkeld.

 

Die Konstitusionele Hof het self ’n opsomming van die uitspraak verskaf en uittreksels daaruit word verbatim in Engels hier aangehaal, terwyl die interpretasie daarvan in Afrikaans verskaf word. Neem asseblief kennis dat slegs uittreksels uit hierdie opsomming gebruik word en nie die volledige opsomming soos deur die Konstitusionele Hof verskaf nie.

 

Die beginselvraag wat die Konstitusionele Hof in hierdie saak aangespreek het, is of die appèlhof korrek was in die interpretasie van artikel 3 van die Wet op Beheer van Vuurwapens, saamgelees met artikel 149 van hierdie wet.

 

DIE FEITE IN DIE SAAK SOOS OPGESOM DEUR DIE KONSTITUSIONELE HOF:

“Fidelity is one of the largest security service providers in South Africa, and being in possession of firearms is an indispensable aspect of its business. It owns more than 8 500 firearms, utilised by its security officers to execute their tasks. In compliance with the Act, Fidelity nominated Mr S G Yssel as the person responsible for holding the licences issued to a juristic person.

 

Mr Yssel left the employ of Fidelity on 1 February 2016. When Mr J G Wentzel took over from Mr Yssel, he discovered that the licences of some 700 firearms had not been renewed timeously (in terms of section 24 of the Act) and consequently, terminated by operation of law as contemplated in section 28 of the Act. On 18 April 2016, Fidelity belatedly attempted to renew the licences that had already expired. However, the Designated Firearms Officer at the Florida Police Station refused to accept the late applications for renewal. This was in accordance with a circular issued by the Commissioner on 3 February 2016 which required that applications for renewal of firearm licences must be lodged at least 90 days before the expiry of the licence.

 

Fidelity launched an application in the High Court in which it sought extensive relief ......The High Court dismissed the application, finding that Fidelity had persisted in asking the Court to order the Minister of Police (the Minister) to consider applications for renewal or for new licences where the licences had terminated by effluxion of time. It also held that Fidelity’s belated attempt to rely on section 22 of the Constitution was misplaced.

 

With the leave of the High Court, Fidelity appealed that decision to the SCA, which overturned the decision of the High Court. ....... The SCA found that there is nothing in the Act, nor the Regulations, that suggests that someone whose licence has terminated by operation of law is, as a result, forever precluded from applying for a new licence. It held further that firsttime applicants and repeat applicants alike are eligible to apply for a firearm licence and once such application has been submitted, it is up to the Commissioner of Police to satisfy himself that the applicant concerned meets the requirements

stipulated in the Act and Regulations.

 

The SCA reasoned that this interpretation is reinforced by section 149 of the Act, which provides that a firearm may only be destroyed as prescribed, and that it “remains the property of the owner thereof until such destruction”.

Lastly, the SCA found that an interpretation of the Act – that firearm owners whose licences have expired are prevented from applying for a new licence, and are required to buy new firearms only for the same application to be considered for a new licence as envisaged in section 3 and regulation 13 – is neither sensible nor businesslike.

 

It made an order directing the Designated Firearms Officer responsible for the area in which Fidelity’s place of business is situated to accept such applications and deal with them in terms of the Act.”

Ná die appèlhof se beslissing teen die polisie, besluit die minister om teen die beslissing te appelleer na die Konstitusionele Hof.

 

KONSTITUSIONELE HOF

“In this Court the Minister submitted that the SCA erred in its interpretation of the Act in a manner that negates the offence committed by Fidelity, instead elevating the financial prejudice Fidelity stands to suffer over what the Act prescribes. Fidelity submitted that various sections of the Act, read with section 139 of the Act, do not support the Minister’s submission that what is required is a surrender of the firearms for the purposes of destruction, without any possibility of the owner applying to renew the terminated licences. Fidelity further submitted that there is nothing in the Act that expressly prohibits the submission of a new application, and thus, the SCA was correct in its findings.”

 

KONSTITUSIONELE HOF SE BEVINDINGS

“In a unanimous judgment, the Court found that the Act indeed contained a mechanism by which a gun owner could regain lawful possession of a firearm, which was an application by the gun owner for a licence to possess the firearm, found in sections 13 to 20 – section 20 being applicable to Fidelity, which required firearms for business purposes. The fact that the gun holder may not have timeously applied to renew the licence in terms of section 24 did not in itself mean that the gun holder may not apply for a licence in terms of the applicable provision in sections 13 to 20. Applying for a licence, and applying to renew an existing licence, were different processes, governed by different provisions of the Act.

 

The Court interpreted section 20, guided by the principle of giving the section its plain and ordinary grammatical meaning. It found that there was nothing in section 20 which excluded, from its scope, a firearm which an applicant currently or previously possessed unlawfully or a firearm in respect of which an applicant previously held a licence which expired. It found that the correct position was that section 20 on its plain and ordinary meaning entitled a person specified in section 20(2) to apply for a licence in respect of any “firearm” that is not a “prohibited” firearm. Since Fidelity met these requirements, it was entitled to make section 20 applications in respect of the firearms at issue in this case unless this was expressly or impliedly prohibited.”

 

KONSTITUSIONELE HOF SE BESLISSING

“In the result, the Constitutional Court ordered that leave to appeal be granted but that the appeal be dismissed. On the strength of Biowatch Trust v Registrar, Genetic Resources [2009] ZACC 14; 2009 (6) SA 232 (CC); 2009 (10) BCLR 1014 (CC), the Minister, together with the other applicants (all State functionaries), were ordered to pay Fidelity’s costs in the Constitutional Court.”

 

Die Konstitusionele Hof verleen dus toestemming aan die polisie om teen die appèlhof se beslissing te appelleer, maar verwerp die appèl self en bevestig dat die appèlhof die korrekte uitspraak gelewer het.

 

WAT BETEKEN DIE UITSPRAAK?

Hierdie uitspraak beteken kortweg dat ’n persoon, soos bedoel in artikel 20 van die wet, wel mag aansoek doen om ’n nuwe lisensie vir ’n vuurwapen waarvan die lisensie verval het.

 

Neem kennis van die feit dat “persoon” in artikel 20 van die wet anders omskryf is as onder die artikels van die wet waaronder ons jagters, sportskuts en gewone mense normaalweg aansoek om ’n lisensie doen.

 

Artikel 20 handel grootliks oor die gebruik van vuurwapens vir besigheidsdoeleindes en “persoon” is in hierdie geval dienooreenkomstig beskryf as sekuriteitsmaatskappy, opleiers, geakkrediteerde jagters en soortgelyk. Wanneer hierdie beginsel egter gevestig word, kan daar die redelike verwagting wees dat soortgelyke argumente ook uitgemaak kan word ten opsigte van “natuurlike persone” soos beskryf in artikels 13, 15 en 16 van die wet, aangesien presies dieselfde beginsels van toepassing is.

 

Op grond hiervan is SA Jagters van mening dat enige persoon in besit van ’n vuurwapen waarvan die lisensie verval het, wel om ’n nuwe lisensie vir sodanige vuurwapen mag aansoek doen. Daar is egter ’n paar ander sake wat baie belangrik is en in ag geneem moet word. Hieroor het die Konstitusionele Hof geen uitspraak gelewer nie, maar tog

die moeite gedoen om sommige daarvan breedvoerig in die uitspraak aan te spreek en die wyse waarop die hof redeneer, te verduidelik.

 

1. Wat moet ek met die wapen (waarvan die lisensie verval het) in my besit doen wanneer ek om ’n nuwe lisensie aansoek doen?

Alhoewel die Konstitusionele Hof nie ’n beslissing hieroor gemaak het nie, word daar redelik breedvoerig geredeneer dat die besit van ’n wapen waarvan die lisensie verval het, onwettig in besit is en die persoon aan kriminele vervolging blootgestel kan word.

Die implikasie is dat ek die wapen by die polisie behoort in te handig totdat my aansoek om ’n lisensie afgehandel is. Sou die lisensie goedgekeur word, kan ek die wapen kry. Sou die lisensie nie goedgekeur word nie, kan ek die normale proses van ’n appèl teen die weiering van die lisensie volg en selfs ’n hersieningsaansoek bring. Ek bly die eienaar van die wapen wat by die polisie ingehandig is. Die polisie mag nie die wapen vernietig nie tot op ’n datum ses maande nadat die hele proses van ’n lisensieaansoek, moontlike appèl teen ’n weiering en moontlike hersieningsaansoek afgehandel is. Die eiendomsreg word dus behou, maar besit van die wapen sal onwettig wees nadat die lisensie verval het.

2. Wat word van my bevoegdheid en kan ek onbevoeg verklaar word omdat ek onwettig in besit is van ’n wapen waarvan die lisensie verval het? Hieroor het die Konstitusionele Hof ook geen beslissing gemaak nie, maar redeneer dat ’n persoon nie onbevoeg verklaar kan word bloot omdat die lisensie verval het en die persoon onwettig in besit van die wapen is nie. ’n Persoon kan slegs onbevoeg verklaar word nadat hy skuldig bevind is aan onwettige besit of enige ander oortreding wat tot ’n onbevoegdheidsverklaring kan lei. As ek nie skuldig bevind is nie, kan ek nie onbevoeg verklaar word nie.

 

3. Aan watter vereistes moet ek voldoen om ’n nuwe lisensie te kry?

Hieroor het die hof ook uitvoerig geredeneer dat dit die normale vereistes moet wees soos uitgespel in die wet en regulasies. Dit is dieselfde vereistes as vir enige ander nuwe lisensieaansoek.

 

4. Kan die polisie die feit dat ek die lisensie laat verval het, as rede gebruik om my aansoek om ’n nuwe lisensie te weier?

Oor hierdie vraag is daar nie regtig sekerheid nie en die hof het dit nie in detail aangespreek nie. Die registrateur moet hieroor sy oordeel vel en besluit. Daar is egter reeds verskeie voorbeelde van individue wat wapens vir vernietiging of onder amnestie by die polisie ingehandig het, en wel toegelaat is om aansoek te doen vir nuwe lisensies, en aan wie nuwe lisensies uitgereik is. Wat hierdie kwessie betref, sal net die tyd leer.