Hurdles still in path of Dewani’s SA trialComment on this story
Pretoria - If government predictions are correct, Shrien Dewani has just nine days to pack a suitcase and say his goodbyes before boarding a flight to South Africa and an uncertain future.
For the past three years, his daily routine has been all too predictable, with his confinement in various hospitals for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He’s rarely appeared in public, failing to turn up at numerous London court appearances where his high-profile legal team, spearheaded by the formidable Clare Montgomery – until the last, unsuccessful appeal in the high court – has fought a rearguard action against extradition.
During those appearances, a picture has emerged of an eccentric lifestyle in which Dewani, 33, spends much of his time in a camper van parked in Fromeside Hospital car park, where he surfs the net and plays videogames. He’s said to be keen on swimming, grumpy with hospital staff and regularly spends time at his family’s home in Bristol, at which he was once photographed walking towards his father Prakash.
But that largely anonymous routine is about to end with his enforced return to the Western Cape where prosecutors believe he orchestrated the murder of his bride Anni, 28, while on the Cape Town leg of their honeymoon in November 2010.
They think he paid three hijackers to kill Anni, who was found shot dead in the back of a VW Sharan taxi the following morning – an accusation he has said was “ludicrous”.
Ludicrous or not, he now faces the prospect of an Oscar Pistorius-type media circus when he touches down on the tarmac of Cape Town International Airport on April 8, with Anni’s grieving family in the box row seats at any future trial.
However, there are a couple of hurdles before he enters the dock to – presumably – plead not guilty. Technically, he still has nine days to apply to the European Court of Human Rights to block the extradition. To do that he has to apply for a “Rule 39” interim measure to prevent his removal from the UK, but extradition experts say that is only granted in “exceptional circumstances” when the applicant’s life or health is at risk. As of last night the ECHR said no application had been received, indicating that Dewani is resigned to his extradition.
But UK extradition lawyer Anand Doobay said we should not assume he had ruled it out. “As far as I’m aware his lawyers have not said they won’t be applying to the European court – they could be taking their time to build the strongest case. He can apply right up to when the South Africans say he is due to go back.”
Anand said the April 7 date could be put back a “few days” if he did apply and the court could make a decision on the Rule 39 measure quite quickly, the process all done by correspondence without the need of a court hearing.
He added: “Obtaining a Rule 39 is very rare – the court sets a very high threshold and only a small percentage are granted.
“He’ll have to prove a serious and irreversible risk to life or health, so maybe for that reason he’s decided not to go down the European route, but only he and lawyers will know that.”
The second hurdle is that South African authorities have to ensure he is fit enough to stand trial. If not, they have assured the British that he can return to the UK a free man within 18 months.
His London-based lawyer Andrew Smith declined to discuss the case or whether Dewani would apply to the ECHR.
Similarly, high-profile Cape Town attorney William Booth, who has advised on elements of the case in the past, said he was unaware of any local legal firms that had been approached to represent Dewani.
So if there are no more legal twists to extradition, what will happen to Dewani on Monday, April 7?
A spokeswoman for Britain’s Home Office said typically a person would have to answer bail at a designated police station and then be escorted by officers to the port or airport of embarkation. In Dewani’s case that would probably be Heathrow Airport for an overnight BA flight to Cape Town.
At the foot of the aircraft he will be physically handed over to the South African authorities who will escort him on board. It is unclear whether he will be handcuffed during this process.
He faces an 11-hour flight before reaching Cape Town.
During one of many court hearings last July, lawyer Hugo Keith for the South African government explained what would happen next.
“Dewani would be accompanied by two detectives on the return trip and a mental health nurse.
“He would be taken to the high court and placed in a single cell, charged, and then brought before a high court judge that day who would decide on custody or bail.”
He said a decision would then be taken where to place him, but he would be given the appropriate psychiatric help, whether at Valkenberg or Goodwood.
South African medics would then decide if or when he was fit to stand trial – bearing in mind the 18-month deadline.
Despite their attendance at most of his court hearings, father Prakash and brother Preyen have rarely spoken publicly about the case.
Whether they, or other family members move to Cape Town to be near Shrien for the next 18 months remains to be seen. - Pretoria News Weekend