SA on trial in Dewani extradition caseComment on this story
To offer further special treatment to honeymoon murder accused, Shrien Dewani, would be to admit to an inhumane prison system, says Peter Fabricius.
It’s becoming more apparent by the day how big a blunder the South African authorities really made by failing to apprehend Shrien Dewani in the days after his wife Anni was murdered in Cape Town in November 2010.
Dewani hurried back to his home in Britain. And the South African government has been battling ever since to persuade the British courts to agree for him to be extradited to stand trial for allegedly organising local thugs to kill her in what was dressed up as a hijacking.
It’s no doubt true that any extradition proceeding inherently also becomes a trial of the country that is seeking the extradition.
And from the start of substantive proceedings in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in May 2011, Dewani’s able legal team led by barrister Clare Montgomery have put South Africa’s legal and prison systems firmly in the dock and harshly cross-examined them.
They have raked up all the dirt about appalling prison conditions, including the high risk of rape, that were uncovered by the Jali Commission, and then some.
Montgomery essentially argued that Dewani, a young, attractive man who had been identified by some media reports as possibly gay, would be especially vulnerable to rape.
And that, allegedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, he would not receive adequate treatment in South Africa for his mental illness.
The response of the South African lawyers was perhaps the greatest revelation of all back then.
They argued in effect that Dewani would be treated like no other prisoner had been or likely would be – held in solitary confinement to keep him safe from the normal horrors of prison life here.
That testimony revealed just how badly the South African government wanted him back, but also how far it felt it had to go to convince a British judiciary that Dewani would not be facing barbaric treatment in a Third World country.
South Africa was indeed on trial.
Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle eventually rejected the brutal prisons defence and all others, ruling Dewani should be extradited, pending only his full recovery from his alleged mental illness.
After a lengthy perambulation by the case through higher courts on appeal and then back again, Riddle repeated that judgment in July this year back at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
He said Dewani was fit enough to return to Cape Town where he would be treated at Valkenberg Hospital ahead of a potential trial.
Although it was acknowledged that he was still suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Riddle said the level of care would be adequate for the murder suspect as part of his recovery programme.
Then this week, the extradition effort seemed to go back to square one when the high court ruled that the case should be reopened.
Chief Justice Lord Thomas said the extradition case must be reviewed to decide whether an “accused person” suffering from an acute illness could be returned to another country under the Extradition Act.
He also said the court must determine whether it was “ unjust and oppressive” to return him irrespective of his illness.
What that meant was not immediately clear. But the gist of it seemed to be that if Dewani were to be extradited and then deemed by a South African court to be mentally unfit to stand trial, he would be remanded into mental care.
He could then effectively remain in custody indefinitely because that South African mental care institution – Valkenberg, presumably – would be incapable of curing him.
In other words, it seems, the prison system in its wider sense is back in the dock in Britain.
One almost feels that since South Africa’s offer to give Dewani unprecedented five-star treatment in prison does not seem good enough, it should go further and promise to return him to Britain to serve his time, if convicted and sentenced. Or at least to receive mental treatment if deemed unfit to stand trial.
But that would presumably be an unacceptable admission of guilt that the prison system here is Third World.