Does the Aggravated Sentencing Regime under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998 Violate Freedom of Association? A Constitutional and Comparative Analysis
Author: Delano Cole van der Linde
Affiliations: LLB LLM LLD (Stell), Senior Lecturer, Stellenbosch University
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 2, 2021, p. 288 – 305
In terms of section 10(3) of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998 (“POCA”), a court may impose an aggravated sentence on a criminal offender if the offender was a gang member at the time of the commission of a crime. The court is entitled to apply section 10(3) to the sentencing of any common-law or statutory offence, save for the gang-related offences in Chapter 4 of POCA. As aggravated punishment is attached directly to a person’s status as a gang member, one must question whether such aggravated punishment does not violate the right to freedom of association in section 18 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Section 18 is an unqualified right and subject only to the limitations clause under section 36 of the Constitution. The purpose of this contribution is to investigate whether the associational freedom guaranteed by the Constitution may be limited in light of considerations under international law (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) as well as foreign law (specifically the United States and Germany). The consensus is, broadly speaking, that persons are nondeserving of associational protection where the conduct connected to such an association is criminal in nature. Increased criminal consequences are justifiable where a person’s unlawful conduct is also connected to their status and activity as a member of a criminal organisation. However, increased criminal consequences based merely on a person’s membership of a criminal organisation, as is the case in terms of section 10(3) of POCA, is considered arbitrary and irrational. The conclusion is that section 10(3) of POCA should be amended so that it applies only to crimes that are related to a convicted person’s gang-related activities.