The Oscar Pistorius Case and the South African Legal System – The Guardian

Oscar Pistorius: legal Q&A

By David Smith in Johannesburg

The South African athlete is due to appear in court in Pretoria on Tuesday for a bail hearing

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius, right, is charged with the murder of his partner Reeva Steenkamp, left. Photograph: Reuters

What happens on Tuesday?

Mr Pistorius is due to appear at Pretoria magistrates court at 9am local time (7am GMT) . His defence will try to convince the court that the category of the offence should be changed from the most serious, schedule six, to schedule five, giving him a better chance of being granted bail. The hearing has been allocated for Tuesday and Wednesday.

What is the likely outcome?

Most commentators expect bail to be denied. Usually this would mean that the defendant is transferred from a police station to a less comfortable prison. It remains unclear whether special provisions would be made for Pistorius’s disability.

When would a trial start?

The South African courts are notoriously slow, but a high-profile case like this is expected to move faster. Legal experts interviewed by the Guardian predicted four to six months from now.

Where would it be?

Probably the high court in Pretoria.

Who would decide whether Pistorius is guilty or not?

A judge sitting alongside two assessors – typically magistrates or retired magistrates.

Why no jury?

South Africa abolished the jury system in the 1930s because of racial politics. Only white people were allowed to sit on juries and there was no hope of black defendants being given a fair trial. There was debate about reviving juries after the transition to democracy in 1994 but, given South Africa’s 11 official languages, it would have been prohibitively expensive to hire interpreters.

How come the media have such a free rein to speculate and report leaks?

It is widely assumed that judges are less vulnerable to being swayed than a member of a jury, hence South Africa’s more relaxed las of sub judice. Unlike a jury, the judge is obliged to give written reasons for his findings of fact.

Can Pistorius get a fair trial?

Yes, says Prof Pamela Schwikkard, dean of law at Cape Town University. “There is a lot of media coverage of a lot of trials. In Britain it would be an issue, but here it wouldn’t even be vaguely an issue.”

If convicted of murder, what penalty could he face?

A minimum sentence of life in prison unless there are “substantial” circumstances in mitigation. He would be eligible for parole after 25 years, possibly earlier. By then he would be 51.

No death penalty?

Over a century about 3,500 South Africans, including anti-apartheid fighters, were hanged before the death penalty was abolished in 1995. Opinion polls show support for it as a solution to crime, but a constitutional court judge, Edwin Cameron, recently told how he is “proud of my president” for ruling out its reintroduction.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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