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Johanensburg - The Minister of correctional services failed to decide yes or no, so the court decided for him – and opened a prison door.

On January 1, convicted murderer Cornelius van Wyk will be released from prison on day parole in terms of a Pretoria High Court order.

At the end of last month, Acting Judge André Oosthuizen ordered that the minister’s “failure to take a decision” on Van Wyk’s parole application was reviewed and set aside, and ordered that Van Wyk be placed on day parole from January 1, subject to normal conditions for day parole.

Judge Oosthuizen ordered the minister to pay the legal costs of the application.

The current minister is S’bu Ndebele, and, before him, the post was held by Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Van Wyk was sentenced to three life terms in September 1994 for three killings in October 1991 in Makhado, Limpopo, when he was 20 years old and part of the ultra-right-wing National Socialist Partisans.

Correctional Services initially refused to consider his application for parole until Van Wyk brought a court action, resulting in a court ordering the department to deal with him under the parole laws which were in effect when he was sentenced, which allowed him to apply for parole after a shorter time in jail than current laws for lifers.

Parole is not automatically granted, but the law sets the terms for how long a prisoner must serve before applying for parole.

The parole board recommended his parole but the minister failed to make the final, legally required decision on this, so Van Wyk went back to court to demand merely that the minister make a decision. On August 28, the Pretoria High Court gave the minister a month to make a decision.

That yes or no was still not forthcoming by the time the deadline expired, so Van Wyk again returned to court, resulting in the current order. Changes in the ministry meant at least two ministers were involved.

Van Wyk’s lawyer, Julian Knight, said the Leeuwkop parole board had recommended Van Wyk’s placement on parole.

“The minister is going to have to explain to the court why he disregarded the court order of Judge Prinsloo in the first place. To my mind, his actions are symptomatic of the government’s in general attitude towards the judiciary and orders of court,” said Knight.

“The Department of Correctional Services has noted the content of the court order relating to Mr Van Wyk, and this matter is receiving necessary attention,” Correctional Services spokesman Logan Maistry said.

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The Star