Oscar Pistoriuss uncle Arnold Pistorius, on behalf of the family, welcomed the decision that the athlete undergo mental observation. Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP

Pretoria - A panel of at least three psychiatrists, and possibly a psychologist, will assess Oscar Pistorius for up to 30 days and submit a report to the North Gauteng High Court regarding his mental state at the time of shooting Reeva Steenkamp.

This report will determine the Blade Runner’s fate.

It could result in the athlete being acquitted of murder by virtue of not being criminally responsible for his actions. Or, if it is in the public interest, it could be ordered that he be detained in a psychiatric hospital or in a prison for a period deemed necessary by the court.

This is according to a former acting judge and one of the top senior advocates, who for ethical reasons may not be named.

If it was found that Pistorius had been criminally responsible for the shooting, but his capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions was diminished by reason of mental illness, this could be used - in the event of a conviction - as a mitigating factor in sentencing, the advocate said.

If the report submitted to court was the unanimous finding of the panel of experts who assessed his mental condition - and the report was not disputed by the accused or the prosecution - the judge could determine the matter on the report without hearing further evidence.

In the event of the report being disputed, either party could call experts to question the findings.

Professor Wium de Villiers, criminal procedure law expert at the University of Pretoria, questioned the timing of the defence in presenting the evidence of Dr Merryl Vorster at this late stage, after Pistorius had testified.

“I find it extremely odd that this evidence is only being led now.

“Possible diminished criminal responsibility as a defence is normally brought up at the start of a trial and forms part of an accused’s explanation of plea.”

De Villiers said the earlier it formed part of the defence, the more credible the defence would be. This defence, from the start, had to be put to State witnesses during their testimony to get their opinion. The State could then, if necessary, call its own psychiatrist to counter this.

De Villiers said the judge had no choice but to send Pistorius for mental observation, following Vorster’s diagnosis that he had a general anxiety disorder. He agreed with Judge Thokozile Masipa that the Criminal Procedure Act was clear that if there was any indication that an accused had a mental illness that possibly reduced criminal responsibility, the court had no choice but to refer the accused for observation.

“Accused are normally sent for 30 days’ observation. I have never seen someone being treated as an outpatient.

“They are committed to the facility during this time.”

Pretoria News