How Pistorius’s verdict reflects on South African legal system and what lies ahead for his sentencing

Yesterday morning, Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction was replaced with murder, two legal experts give their opinion on the ruling and what lies ahead for his sentencing.

The South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that Pistorius should have foreseen the deadly impact his four bullets would have had in the small bathroom.

The new ruling over turns the decision made by Judge Masipa of the High Court.

Commenting  on the previous ruling Justice Eric Leach of the SCA called Masipa’s decision a “fundamental error.”

When asked how the change in verdict reflects on the South African justice system, Professor Penelope Andrews, Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Cape Town said: “This should not be seen to be as an adverse comment upon Masipa’s  competence and ability.”

She went on to say: “Lots of judges decisions are over turned in the appeal process that’s why the process exists, the fact that a judge may not have applied the facts properly does not mean the South African criminal justice system is a mess.”

Commenting on the new verdict Prof. Andrews said: “The judges who dealt with the appeal at the Supreme Court were spot on, so I think that has shown how good our criminal justice system is and more importantly that it is fair.

“As an accused you know you can take the matter further or the state can, if there are sufficient grounds based on the law.”

Commenting on his reaction to the verdict Dr. Mohamed Chiktay Senior Lecturer at WITS University School of Law (Johannesburg) said: “Masipa showed restraint and dealt with the case in a professional manner but at the end of the day when you look at the facts and the law, it is quite evident where she went off in the wrong direction.

“She incorrectly dealt with the concept of doulas intervenciones.”

Commenting on Pistorius’s re-sentencing  Dr.  Chiktay said: “Sentencing will be a difficult aspect of the case, the judge will have to be objective and balance all the factors that are relevant like his disability, age and the fact that he has no prior convictions.”

Prof. Andrews said: “Pistorius will have to supply a compelling reason as to why he should not be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in jail, his disability should not affect his sentencing, one cannot give leniency to anyone who killed a person without any proof that they posed a real threat.”

This morning Barry Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp’s farther said: “We will have to wait and see what happens at sentencing but for now justice has prevailed and we can try get on with our lives for now.”

Erin Brockovich style Justice set for Scotland

by Una Purdie

erinIt could become easier for individuals to challenge  big companies in Scotland’s courtrooms if proposed changes to civil justice get the go-ahead.

The introduction of class actions would allow groups of individuals with similar grievances to share the cost of a single collective claim. It is one of many reforms recommended in the long-awaited review of civil justice by Lord Gill, published this week.

Class actions are championed by consumer groups who feel individuals can otherwise be powerless to sue a company when it acts illegally. The Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, Martyn Evans, said Lord Gill’s review “gives a clear and prominent voice to the interests of citizens as users of our civil justice system.”

The issue was raised earlier this year when Ian Hamilton QC attempted to sue banking giant RBS. Mr Hamilton alleged the bank had hidden the true state of its finances when encouraging him to invest in shares in the company. The case had to be  abandoned due to spiralling legal fees when it moved from the small claims court.

The proposal was cautiously welcomed by the Leith Link Residents’ Association which has taken a petition for class actions to the Scottish Parliament. Residents believe class actions would allow them to hold Scottish Water to account for forty years of the ‘Seafield stench’ – foul odours from the local sewage treatment works.

Resident’s Association member Rob Kirkwood said: “I welcome any kind of increase in access to justice for ordinary people.” Mr Kirkwood had not yet studied the details of the proposals but was wary about the potential scope of Lord Gill’s recommendations: “the concerns that people have got are that it might be restricted”.

A supporter of the Leith campaign, local MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville also welcomed Lord Gill’s proposal. Ms Somerville said:

“I’m delighted that the review of civil justice has called for class actions in Scotland. They will help level up the playing field, increasing access to justice for ordinary citizens. It would also help the court deal more cost effectively with similar claims.

“Hopefully the threat of class actions will make businesses think twice about taking illegal actions in the first place.”

Class action procedures are already a well established part of the justice system in the US, made famous in the film ‘Erin Brockovich’. They are also available in Australia, Canada and many European jurisdictions.

Opponents express concern that class actions will create a US style litigation culture.

Executive announces tough anti-crime measures

By Rory Reynolds

Tough new sentencing laws aimed at tackling organised criminals and drug dealers were unveiled today by the Scottish Government.

Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill will also target those found distributing or in possession of hardcore pornography and allow police to retain forensic evidence relating to sexual assaults and child abuse for a longer period of time.

The Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that new legislation would give the police and the courts more power.

He said: “This Bill can significantly strengthen the hand of our law enforcement agencies to tackle serious organised crime linked to drugs, money laundering, human trafficking and sexual exploitation and give police and the courts new powers to deal with predatory sex offenders.

“There can be no hiding place for those who peddle drugs and despair on our streets and no compromise in curbing the activities of predatory adults whose behaviour poses a risk to our children and others.”

The bill will also raise the age at which children can be prosecuted in the adult courts from eight to 12 and end the remand of children in adult prisons.

The Justice Secretary added said: “Our investment in policing has delivered record numbers of officers on our streets, while crime is at its lowest level in a generation.”

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