News / Africa

S. Africa’s Criminal Legal System on Trial With Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 8, 2014.
Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 8, 2014.

The end is near for the murder trial of South African running star Oscar Pistorius. The legal spectacle has provided a snapshot of the South African criminal justice system. On one hand, it may have impressed onlookers with tenacious lawyers and gritty debate, not to mention a no-nonsense woman judge. It is not clear, however, if the Oscar Pistorius trial is a true representation of the South African justice system.

South Africa’s policing and criminal justice system has been under worldwide scrutiny for the past six months as the televised murder trial of the Olympic athlete and double amputee unfolded in a Pretoria courtroom.
 
He is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day - February 14, 2013. He maintains he shot her in self-defense, thinking Steenkamp was an intruder in his home.
 
The trial has become a test case of the legal system’s ability to deliver justice in a country where inequality persists 20 years after the end of apartheid.

Money, influence
 
Robyn Leslie, researcher for the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, said the Pistorius trial is an anomaly, not the norm.
 
“He is definitely getting the VIP treatment without a doubt… We hear [about] terrible legal representation, the accused end up in jail based on flimsy or non-existent evidence that isn’t sufficiently challenged in court, days upon days of remands for no reason… [It] is definitely not the situation most people face,” said Leslie.

The Pistorius trial is indicative of what money can buy, according to Leslie.
 
The trial has been peppered with testimonies from ballistic and forensic experts dissecting bullet trajectories and blood spatters and reenactments of the night Pistorius shot his girlfriend.
 
And Pistorius has been free on bail for 18 months.
 
This is not the case for more impoverished defendants. Legal Aid South Africa reports there are 10,000 people languishing in jails who cannot afford to pay the smallest bail.  

Constitutional rights

Natalie Jaynes, program manager for the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, said getting access to basic constitutional rights works only for the educated and the elite.  
 
“We fought so long and hard to have a fairly robust legal framework that provides us with good access to justice provisions for the poorest of the poor. The extent to which people are able to actually leverage that and access that, depends on so many external variables and so it still feels so unfairly biased in favor of people who are privileged,” said Jaynes.

The Wits Justice project says that 45,000 people -- a third of the prison population -- are subject to unreasonable delays during their trials. A Johannesburg prosecutor, who asked not to be named, told VOA trials often are delayed unnecessarily.
 
“In the Pistorius trial, everything was like made to be perfect… Witnesses were on time, the judge was on time.  It’s not happening in our case -- we often start at 10.30 in the morning, sometimes later.  We also have trouble with witnesses… The witnesses are scared so they don’t want to come to court.”

Other shortcomings highlighted during this trial, however, have nothing to do with the privilege of fame and fortune.
 
Jayne noted the shoddy work of police investigators who mishandled evidence at the crime scene.
 
“It has actually laid bare some of the very deep fissures within the criminal justice system.  If you look back to the very early phases of the investigation, the issues around the slip-ups of the police investigation, and really reflecting an absolute sloppiness there in that regard,” she said.

Final verdict

Justice groups, though, welcome the scrutiny. Leslie of the Wits’ Justice Project said that while the Pistorius trial will not necessarily improve flaws in the justice system, it is helping to educate a large number of South Africans about their legal rights.

“People are learning more about what the criminal procedure is… they are learning about bail, the big outcry. Was it legal to allow Pistorius bail? [It] means there is a basic understanding of the process just from that debate, that I think has been a really positive side to it,” said Leslie.

A final verdict on the justice system may take time. Meanwhile, a verdict in the Pistorius case will be delivered on September 11 by Judge Thokozile Masipa -- the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge in post-apartheid South Africa.
 

 

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More