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Pretoria - A former death row prisoner, at loggerheads with the authorities for more than three years over his parole application, may be a step closer to freedom.
Paul van Vuuren has turned to the courts numerous times in his quest to be freed on parole.
His case even went to the Constitutional Court where, in a groundbreaking judgment, there was a pronouncement on how long certain prisoners sentenced to life should serve before being considered for parole.
It was found that guidelines in this regard were not clear.
Van Vuuren shot dead a British tourist in the early 1990s after robbing him at gunpoint. He was sentenced to death in 1992.
After sitting on death row for eight years, his sentence was commuted in September 2000 to two life sentences when the death penalty was declared unconstitutional. The life sentences were backdated to 1992.
When Van Vuuren was first sentenced, in terms of Correctional Services’ policy, offenders serving life sentences were required to serve a minimum of 10 – and not more than 15 years – of their sentence before being considered for parole.
This meant that prisoners sentenced before 1994 did not have to serve more than 15 years before being considered for parole.
Offenders sentenced to life imprisonment after March 1, 1994, were required to serve 20 years before they could be considered for parole. Currently, prisoners facing a life sentence must serve 25 years before being considered for parole.
After serving 18 years Van Vuuren approached the Pretoria High Court and asked to be released on parole.
The court turned down his application, saying he had to serve 20 years before he could be considered for release.
Van Vuuren then turned to the Constitutional Court to clear up the issue of when a prisoner could be placed on parole. The highest court in the land ordered Correctional Services to consider his release, which it did, but it was decided he was not due for release.
The department said he first had to be assessed by a psychologist, as the court concluded in 1992 that he was a psychopath after a panel of psychiatrists found he had no chance of rehabilitation. He was subsequently seen by a new psychiatrist, who told the parole board that in his opinion Van Vuuren still suffered from antisocial behaviour. Also, there was reason to be concerned about his behaviour if he was released.
The psychiatrist recommended he remain in jail longer and undergo more programmes to lower the risk of his reoffending.
Van Vuuren turned to the court numerous times to review and set aside the department’s refusal to grant him parole.
In 2012, a judge ordered he could be assessed by a private psychiatrist, who found that Van Vuuren was fit to be released.
The department said it considered these submissions but was still not convinced it was safe for him to be on parole.
In his latest court bid, Van Vuuren asked the court to order his release, but Judge Winston Msimeki said the court could not do that. He ruled that the two conflicting psychiatrists had to submit a joint report to the parole board to highlight the risks, if any, of releasing Van Vuuren.
Correctional Services must within 30 days of this order, and armed with that report, reconsider Van Vuuren for parole.