Category Archive: Protection Order

Help! There’s an arrest warrant out for me

What to do if an arrest warrant is issued against you

If you are caught in the act of committing a crime, you will be arrested. At that point you need the services of a good bail lawyer. But what happens if an arrest warrant is issued against you? In this case you have not actually been arrested, but the threat of arrest hangs over you like the legendary sword of Damocles. What does this mean, and how can you go about having the threat, i.e. warrant, lifted?

What is an arrest warrant?

A warrant for your arrest is issued if you fail to appear in court when you have been subpoenaed and are in contempt of court, or if you are in breach of a court order, such as a protection (or restraining) order. You will either be arrested if you do nothing, i.e. fail to rectify the contempt of court, or if you do something you are not supposed to do, i.e. try to visit or telephone the person you are restrained from having contact with. In the latter case the warrant will apply as long as the protection order is in force, and there is nothing you can do about it. The good news is…as long as you comply with the terms of the court order, you need not worry.

But if a warrant is issued for your arrest on the basis of contempt of court, you need to take action. Let’s look at the different scenarios that might arise and what you should do.

You missed a court date

You may have received a summons to appear in court, either for something you did (traffic fines, etc., which we’ll come on to) or to provide information, perhaps as a witness. Even if you have not committed an offence, failing to appear in court is in itself an offence. But life happens, and dates get mixed up, children get sick, the car breaks down, etc. If you miss a court date and subsequently remember, don’t sit at home and wait for a second invitation. Go immediately to the court and speak to the clerk of the court. The clerk will find your details on the system and refer the matter to the magistrate. Depending on the circumstances, the magistrate may forgive the oversight and simply set a new date for your court appearance, or they may issue you with a fine. Whatever you do, don’t wait for the police to appear at your door and arrest you.

Two weeks’ grace

The court will generally hold over a warrant for arrest for non-appearance for two weeks, allowing you a grace period to remember and correct your mistake. It will then be sent to the police station local to your address; and it will be the responsibility of the local police to carry out the arrest. This usually takes place early in the morning, if you are lucky, or late in the evening – times when you are most likely to be at home. If it comes to this, you’d better hope the knock on the door comes pre-dawn, so you have all day to sort out your bail. Otherwise you won’t be sleeping in your own bed that night! Much better to avoid the situation altogether. Rectify your error as soon as you become aware of it.

You have overdue traffic fines

With the use of speed cameras becoming more and more common, it’s possible to amass multiple speeding fines on a single journey. Maybe you ignore these when they arrive in the post, or maybe you mean to pay them and then forget. The parking ticket left on your windscreen may suffer the same fate. If traffic fines mount up unpaid, or if you ignore a single summons to appear in court, which may be buried in the small print of the ticket, i.e. “if you fail to pay by [date], you may be liable to a court appearance” (or words to that effect), a warrant could be issued for your arrest. You may not know anything about this until you are stopped in a routine roadblock and the police officer runs your driving licence through the system. Or you may be on your way to your dream holiday and detained when you present your passport at the airport. If either of these scenarios occurs on a Friday night, you know where you’ll be spending your weekend, and it won’t be a on a beach somewhere.

Pay online

Historically, it was not possible to pay overdue fines in the usual manner – i.e. via the AARTO website. This has now changed. Perhaps due to the waste of resources spent bringing otherwise law-abiding citizens to court, in a country with a high crime rate and an overstretched law enforcement service, or perhaps in an effort to maximise revenue, AARTO now permits overdue traffic fines, along with the “admission of guilt” penalty, to be paid online. Note that this only applies to South African citizens and permanent residents with a South African ID number. If you are a foreign national, you must still pay offline. It’s not clear if overdue payments are accepted in the same way for non-South Africans.

Fortunately, you can also search for your fines on AARTO. Although there is some contention over the validity of a ticket sent by post, given our unreliable postal system and the lack of any proof of delivery or receipt, it’s not worth taking the chance. Being arrested, and needing the services of a bail attorney, will cause you far more grief and expense than paying your fines. After all, if you parked illegally or exceeded the speed limit, the fines are a reasonable penalty for breaking the law.

Breach of a court order

In this scenario you cannot act to remove the arrest warrant. The nature of a restraining or other court order is that you are allowed to move freely in society only so long as you observe the conditions of the order, which exist to protect an individual or the community against whatever threat you represent. Think of the court order as a suspended sentence. The arrest warrant will remain in place until the order is lifted or expires. But the solution to the arrest warrant is, in this situation, beautifully simple. Comply with the court order and you have nothing to worry about.

Don’t get yourself arrested!

There may be some scenarios in which an arrest warrant is issued against you, and you genuinely know nothing about it. You may have received a summons that you honestly misplaced and forgot, perhaps during a period of upheaval in your life. If you do get that pre-dawn knock on the door, or are detained in a roadblock, call us immediately to help you. But in the vast majority of cases, you can resolve the matter before it results in your arrest. Check your fines on AARTO. If you have any reason to suspect there may be an arrest warrant in your name, you can visit your local police station and check the register. If you miss a court date, go straight away to the clerk of the court to sort things out. Don’t let fines mount up or assume that the magistrate will forget about you. Neither will happen, and you will only make your situation worse by ignoring it.

Know a good bail lawyer

If you are at all worried that there may be an arrest warrant pending against you, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 / 076 116 0623 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. Cape Town Attorneys SD Law and Associates are experienced criminal lawyers who are available 24/7, 365 days a year. We won’t let you down.

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Cyberbullying – it’s time to fight back

Cyberbullying is not just a problem overseas

Cyberbullying is on the increase, despite the rise in awareness of the problem and the emergence of new strategies and agencies to combat it. Reports of suicides induced by cyberbullying are common around the world, and South Africa is not immune. In February, a grade 6 learner in a Pretoria school took her own life after a photograph of her made the rounds on WhatsApp.

Cyberbullying in South Africa – some figures

According to a 2018 report by research company Ipsos Global Advisor, South Africa has the highest prevalence of cyberbullying out of 28 countries surveyed. The report indicated that more than 80% of South Africans are aware of cyberbullying and almost 75% of us believe anti-bullying measures are insufficient. Fifty-four percent of parents who took part said they know at least one child in their community who has been a victim of cyberbullying, an increase of 24% since 2011.

In Cape Town, university students take to social media to mock and torment others who fail to meet some unspoken standard of “coolness”. Our client, “A”, who was relentlessly pursued on Facebook with hurtful and damaging posts, eventually began receiving phone calls from undisclosed numbers with threats from a range of people claiming to be able to find her and worse. Although there were witnesses to the bullying, no one was willing to come forward publicly for fear of consequences. “A” said, speaking of her tormentor: “The horrible things she has done to people – two girls even contacted me to say that they had nearly commited suicide last year due to the way she attacked them on social media.” Cyberbullying can be as terrifying and real as any other form of bullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Unsurprisingly online harassment happens most often to young people, the generation that has embraced the digital revolution with the most fervour. However, those over the age of 25 are not immune to its devastating effects. Think of the vengeful ex who posts nude photos of the previous partner online in order to cause pain and embarrassment.

Perhaps the worst type of electronic harassment is cyberbullying, which the Cyberbullying Research Centre defines as: “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Put very simply, “cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through email or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like.” Facebook and Twitter are common platforms for cyberbullying.

What are internet trolls?

While anyone of any age can be a victim of cyberbullying, the word tends to refer to the behaviour of adolescents and young adults. The term “internet troll” is defined by slightly different activities and usually refers to an adult. The Urban Dictionary’s top-rated definition of internet trolling is: “the deliberate act…of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee-jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument.” Trolling tends to happen in comment threads, particularly on YouTube and Instagram, whereas cyberbullying often involves direct posts on Facebook or WhatsApp groups.

How much protection does our law offer against cyberbullying and trolling?

Here in South Africa we don’t have legislation specifically covering digital harassment (as they do in New Zealand), but the Protection from Harassment Act 2011 covers electronic as well as physical harassment. The Act includes sexual harassment, but it is important to note that other forms of harassment are equally damaging and protection is available under the law if you are suffering from bullying or character sabotage in cyberspace. The Protection from Harassment Act 2011 defines harassment as:

“…directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the respondent knows or ought to know –

(a) causes harm or inspires the reasonable belief that harm may be caused to the complainant or a related person by unreasonably –

(i) following. watching. pursuing or accosting of the complainant or a related person, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant or a related person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be;

(ii) engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant or a related person, by any means, whether or not conversation ensues;

(iii) sending, delivering or causing the delivery of letters, telegrams, packages, facsimiles, electronic mail or other objects to the complainant or a related person or leaving them where they will be found by, given to or brought to the attention of  the complainant or a related person;

(b) amounts to sexual harassment of the complainant or a related person”

(Italics ours for emphasis.)

Stay safe from digital harassment

If you are being relentlessly targeted with abuse on social media or via email you can apply for a protection order under the provisions of the Act. At Cape Town lawyers SDLAW we can help you do that. But there is a lot you can do to keep yourself safe online. An article from BBC Newsbeat offers the following tips for staying safe online. This advice applies whether you are 15 or 50.

To stay safe online:

  • Don’t post personal information online, such as your physical address, your email address or cell phone number. Keep personal information as general as possible.
  • Never give anyone access to your passwords. Check the privacy settings on social media accounts and learn how to keep your personal information private.
  • Change passwords regularly.
  • Think very carefully before posting photos of yourself online. Once your picture is online, anyone can download it and share it or even change it. This is particularly important with photos that could be used against you, such as party photographs.
  • Never respond or retaliate to negative posts. Bullies like nothing more than a reaction. Don’t give them one.
  • Block any users who send you nasty messages on social media sites and delete anything they post on your page.
  • Never reveal your real name, your friends’ names, where you go to school or your place of work.
  • Don’t open emails, downloads or attachments from people you don’t know or trust as they could contain a computer virus or unwanted messages.
  • Block spam emails and delete them.

If you are the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Block the bully’s email address, phone number and delete them from social media contacts. Report their activities to their internet service provider (ISP) or to any websites they use to target you.
  • Never respond or retaliate, this can just make things worse. However difficult, try to ignore the bullies.
  • Make a note of the dates and times of bullying messages, along with any details you have about the sender’s ID and the URL.
  • Don’t pass on cyberbullying videos or messages.
  • If you’re being bullied repeatedly, think about changing your user ID, nickname or profile. It might seem unthinkable in the digital age, but consider taking a break from social media. If your profile disappears, there is nothing for bullies to target, and you will also have a respite from their debilitating behaviour.
  • Don’t ignore it if it happens to someone else. If you see cyberbullying going on, report it and offer your support.

Cape Town attorney can help

If you are not sure if the behaviour you are suffering is classed as harassment, we can review your situation and advise you of your rights. If you are the victim of cyberbullying, internet trolls or other online defamation, we can arrange a protection order against your assailant. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or simon@sdlaw.co.za today for more information or to make an appointment. Don’t suffer in silence. The law is there to protect you.

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Served with a protection order? What you need to know

Protection order South Africa

Protection order is an order used by a court to protect a person or business. If you are a landlord and have been served with a protection order by your tenant, what does this mean and what should you do about it?

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