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London - Next month marks the third anniversary of Anni Dewani’s brutal death in the back of a Cape Town taxi.
Driven away in the VW Sharan by three strangers in a supposed hijacking, she died a lonely and terrifying death from a single gunshot to her neck - her blood-soaked body found hours later on rough ground in Gugulethu.
Three years on and three South African men languish in prison for their part in the new bride’s murder. But a fourth man wanted by Western Cape detectives continues to evade justice, living a relatively free life in and out of hospital in the UK.
His name is Shrien Dewani, the new husband of Anni who had been “enjoying” their honeymoon in South Africa after a lavish marriage in their families’ ancestral home of India.
This week Shrien, 33, won the latest legal battle in the seemingly endless fight by the South African authorities to have him extradited back to the scene of the crime to answer allegations he orchestrated the murder of Anni, 28.
In July, Judge Howard Riddle had ruled in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court that Dewani was fit enough to return to South Africa where he would continue his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression at Valkenberg Hospital. He acknowledged that it might take time for him to be fit enough to plead but said it was better for him in the long term to be extradited.
But this week Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas threw that into doubt. In what could be a landmark ruling in the high court, Lord Thomas said the extradition case against Dewani must be reviewed to see whether an “accused person” suffering from an acute illness could be extradited under the Extradition Act.
He also said the court must determine whether it was “unjust and oppressive” to return him irrespective of his illness.
But some legal experts believe the judgment could also have been a delaying tactic, giving the panel of three judges more time to assess the legality of sending back a sick man under extradition laws.
The decision was yet another setback for Anni’s family who have sat through countless hearings in South Africa and London to discover what happened to their daughter on the night of November 13, 2010 and why South African police believe Shrien was involved.
On the steps of London’s High Court, Anni’s mother Nilam Hindocha spoke for the whole family when she questioned the continuing delays.
She said: “I am the mother of a murdered daughter, how long do I have to wait? It’s nearly three years since she was killed and we’ve kept our dignity and respect throughout. “I was brought up to believe British justice is the best in the world, so it’s very hard for us to understand why we are still here now.”
Previous extradition hearings have been told Dewani is suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and was receiving treatment at a mental hospital in his home city of Bristol. Although he is sectioned, courts have been told he is allowed home for meals and family gatherings.
Dr David Lowe, Academic Fellow of the Inner Temple and a law lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said he understood South Africans’ and Anni’s family’s frustrations with the ongoing court battles but said the case was “unique”.
He said: “I’m pretty sure Dewani is playing the legal game but there’s no way you or I could prove it. Up until now most of the high-profile extradition hearings have been reasonably straightforward, but not this one.
“The lower courts have been quite happy to extradite him and have ruled twice that he should go, but the high court seems more concerned with the detail of the law. They are focusing on section 25 of the Extradition Act on his fitness to plead. The lower courts have been happy to send him back and let the South African system decide but the high court wants to be absolutely sure they’re right in law.”
Lowe said: “The integrity of the South African judicial system has never been questioned because they have due process. They don’t have juries like in the UK, but the integrity of the system has never been challenged.
“I’m sure these are just delaying tactics but this is a high-profile case and it’s not just UK eyes looking at the decision, other countries will be viewing the outcome.”
No date was set for the next hearing but Lord Thomas said it should be sooner rather than later.
Lowe said if Dewani lost that decision he might be given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights. He added: “The problem is those courts will ask the same questions the high court will ask – one, will he get a fair trial, and I don’t think there’s any question about the independence of the South African judiciary, and two, has the evidence against him or the case against him involved using torture, and that isn’t the case either.
“If this does go to those higher courts, I don’t see them overturning a high court decision.”
Dr Paul Arnell, a law lecturer at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, agreed that it was a unique case. He said: “This is quite an unusual case in that it deals with mental health issues rather than the country’s judicial system.
“There was an extradition case recently involving an Albanian where it was argued the Albanian judicial system is institutionally corrupt. That is not the case with South Africa. In this case there are two options which might happen – the case will be discharged or decision to extradite him delayed until he gets better.
“It’s a complicated case because while the South Africans want him to return to answer what are very serious allegations, Dewani has rights and entitlements living here. This is a conflict between the two interests. I understand the frustrations and the feeling that the system is being abused, but we don’t have summary justice where somebody is just bundled abroad.”
Dr Arnell doubted that the case would be discharged, and eventually he would be forced to return. He added: “I think there will be further delays, but in the end, he will be extradited to stand trial. I don’t think he will be discharged on health reasons but we don’t know how long it will take.”
Lawyer Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, an expert in mental health and human rights issues, believed the case would be delayed until he was well enough to plead: “The question is whether he should remain in this country until he has sufficiently recovered from his PTSD. The judges will want to be assured that he is fit enough to plead if he returns.”