PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA
— A South African judge has eased bail restrictions on Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, clearing the path for him to compete in athletic events abroad once again.
Pistorius can now head overseas, drink alcohol, live without random police visits and drug tests, and he can return to the home where he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, his model girlfriend.
The South African Olympian was not in court Thursday morning, but his attorneys argued in his absence that the bail conditions set late last month by Magistrate Desmond Nair were far too strict.
High Court Judge Bert Bam did not hold back on criticism of the magistrate's original bail conditions. "The term entitling the correctional officer to visit the appellant at any reasonable time, day or night, to ascertain the appellant's 'well-being and compliance with thee conditions,' is absolutely unfair, unreasonable and in total disregard to the appellant's right to privacy and family life," he said.
The judge said the original bail conditions seemed to disregard the circumstances of the case.
"The magistrate, in my view, misdirected himself in reasoning the appellant was not, in the circumstances, entitled to less stringent bail conditions. The magistrate should have kept in mind that every case has to be dealt with on its own merits. Accordingly, I find the magistrate's decision not to grant the appellant the right to use his passport was wrong," said Bam.
Prosecutor Gerry Nel opposed the appeal on the grounds that Pistorius' attorneys should have returned to the magistrate's court rather than ask the high court to ease the bail conditions. His argument gained little traction with the judge, who granted all parts of the appeal, including a request for relaxation of conditions that had not been entered in court records, but only were read aloud during the concluding session of last month's bail hearing.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius has no immediate plans to compete in any athletic events, but since the case is expected to drag on for months, he should be able to resume athletic competition and earn a living.
"It's only, only, only to earn income. That's his sole source of income, whatever can come from that. No other reason and under the controlled circumstances," said Roux.
Pistorius still faces murder charges for killing Steenkamp at his home on February 14. The trial is not expected to begin until late this year.
Judge Bam said Pistorius can travel internationally if he documents his travel plans to prosecuting attorneys at least seven days in advance, and returns his passport to authorities after he is back in South Africa.
Medupe Simasiku, spokesman for the prosecution, did not comment on the court decision, but said he expects that Pistorius will abide by all rules set by the judge.
"We believe that he will comply by the bail conditions and whatever his legal representatives have said will be able to be kept as promised, and he will be able to attend court as required," said Simasiku.
Pistorius' next court appearance is set for June 4, when indictments are expected to be handed down by the prosecution.
Oscar Pistorius's lawyers Barry Roux (L) and Brian Webber prepare documents before the start of the application to appeal some of his bail conditions at a Pretoria court, March 28, 2013.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel prepares for a hearing in the Pretoria, South Africa high court, March 28, 2013.
February 22, 2013: Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa for his bail hearing.
Relatives of Oscar Pistorius hug each other ahead of proceedings at the Pretoria magistrates court February 22, 2013.
Reeva Steenkamp's casket arrives ahead of her funeral ceremony in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, February 19, 2013.
Feb. 19, 2013: Carl Pistorius, right, and Henke Pistorius, the brother and father of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend attend Oscar's bail hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, South Africa.
Investigating officer Hilton Botha, the lead detective in the Pistorius murder case, during a break in proceedings, February 21, 2013.