the Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court’s finding that honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani be extradited to South Africa for his trial, amounts to a vote of confidence in the South African criminal justice system, say legal experts.
Their reaction is after District Court Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle’s comments he has “complete confidence in the South African judicial system to provide a fair trial” and that he was “impressed” by the level and nature of the assurances provided by South African authorities that Dewani would receive proper treatment if detained.
According to the experts, the findings prove South Africa’s prison and criminal justice systems are acceptable and within the range of the fairness expected in any democratic system.
Anton Katz, a senior counsel at the Cape Bar experienced in the field of extradition law, said: “The South African legal system is well within the range of acceptable, fair and democratic systems. The decision demonstrates that.”
Katz said a magistrate faced with arguments about the fairness of the system of law of the requesting states should only find against the request if he accepts an accused will suffer a flagrant denial of justice if extradited. This was obviously not the case in Dewani’s situation, he said.
Professor Steve Tuson, a criminal law expert at Wits University, agreed with Katz.
“It would be fair to say that it’s a vote of confidence in the South African criminal justice system,” he said.
He said that, by ordering the extradition, the Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court must have implicitly found that Dewani would receive a fair trial.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos agreed, but stressed the decision did not mean that the prison system in South Africa was perfect.
“But it does say that a person incarcerated here will not be worse off than in any other democratic system. It’s saying our system provides safeguards and is what one can expect of a democracy,” he said.
Dewani, who has denied conspiring to kill his wife, Anni, in a fake hijacking in Gugulethu last November, has been fighting a South African request to the UK for his extradition so that he can be tried in connection with the killing.
His lawyers have claimed he is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and is too unwell to be sent to South Africa for trial.
In addition, they have presented evidence to attack the South African prison system and show why it was not safe to incarcerate Dewani locally.
South African authorities, however, have undertaken to detain Dewani in a single cell in the sick bay area at the Goodwood Correctional Centre if he was detained pending his trial.
If convicted, he would be detained in a separate cell at the Malmesbury or Brandvlei prisons.
Riddle said he had no reason to doubt the sincerity of the undertakings, or the ability of the authorities to fulfil them.
He said none of the institutions suffered from the level of overcrowding or staff shortages mentioned by Dewani’s defence team. In addition, arrangements could be made for him to have access to private medical care.
“In addition to the specific assurances about prison in this case, the Republic of South Africa has explicitly adopted all relevant international and regional treaties.
“It is bound by its own constitution which incorporates a full Bill of Rights. The specific assertion made in these proceedings – that since the end of apartheid, South Africa has consistently upheld the rule of law and individual rights – has not been challenged.
“The republic is now a well-established democracy with a vibrant and free press,” he said.
Riddle said nobody was saying there was significant room for improvement in the general prison state.
But, he added he had no reasons to doubt that the authorities would take all reasonable steps to protect Dewani and that he would be well cared for.
“I have complete confidence in the South African system of justice,” Riddle said.
While Riddle gave the go-ahead for the extradition, Home Secretary Theresa May still has to give it the final stamp of approval.
Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority spokes-man Eric Ntabazalila said they welcomed the decision, but added it was only the beginning of a long process.
“The Home Secretary still has to make the decision. (The defence) can also appeal. But we are happy with the decision,” he said.