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Anni Dewani’s family could be in for a major delay to see her husband, Shrien Dewani, extradited to SA and brought before court in connection with her murder, after his lawyer told a British court that he needed a year to recover from depression.
Lawyer Clare Montgomery told the Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday that the process had been hanging over him like “the sword of Damocles” and he needed “a period of calm”.
Dewani, 32, stands accused of plotting Anni’s murder in Cape Town in November 2010. He is being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle adjourned the hearing to September 18 for a psychiatrist – employed by the SA government – to examine Dewani and give the court more information about his condition before making any other decision.
Montgomery said keeping Dewani under medical treatment in Britain for 12 months would speed up his recovery rather than jeopardise it by sending him to SA.
His psychiatrist said Dewani was making a slow recovery, but a damaging factor was his “constant awareness of the court proceedings”, said Montgomery.
The mental health tribunal reviewing the report of Dewani’s section order – which keeps him in hospital treatment until May next year – confirmed his mental condition, she said.
Dewani was taking anti-depressants and his psychiatrist believed his depression and PTSD were of moderate severity and had discernibly decreased, she added. However, there was still the risk that he might commit suicide and he was unable “to give an account of himself”, possibly because he could not remember the crucial events of November 2010.
Dewani’s 28-year-old wife was shot when a taxi the couple was travelling in was hijacked in Gugulethu. She was found dead in the abandoned vehicle with a bullet wound to her neck, after taxi driver Zola Tongo drove the newlyweds to the area.
Tongo, who has admitted to his part in the crime, claimed in a plea agreement that Dewani had ordered the hijacking and paid for a “hit” on his wife. Tongo is serving an 18-year sentence.
The prosecution asked for a replacement psychiatrist – who could refuse – to be instructed to examine Dewani. But Riddle requested that the original psychiatrist be asked to reconsider and, if he would not, to be asked why he had changed his mind.
In March, the High Court temporarily halted Dewani’s extradition because of his poor mental health.
Sir John Thomas, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, and Justice Ouseley ruled it was “unjust and oppressive” to send him to SA straight away. They rejected claims that he should not be extradited on human rights grounds and said it was in the interests of justice that he be extradited “as soon as he is fit”.
Ashok Hindocha, the victim’s uncle, said after the hearing that his family desperately needed answers. “I don’t know how much longer the family members can take this pressure psychologically,” Hindocha said.
The Hindocha family wanted a second psychiatrist to examine Dewani. “We hope on September 18 we will have some answers.”
Shrien, 32, was not present at the hearing due to his detainment under the Mental Health Act.He has repeatedly denied arranging the killing and remains on anti-depressants treatment at a private mental health hospital in his home town of Bristol.
Prosecuting QC Hugo Keith, representing the SA government, conceded that a fresh examination by a newly assigned psychiatrist was recommended as the previous psychiatrist no longer wished to be involved in the case.
He agreed with Montgomery that an extended period of recovery for Dewani would “benefit justice”.
It had already been ruled by a London magistrate’s court last year that Dewani could be extradited.
But the process was temporarily halted by the High Court on mental health grounds.