Oscar Pistorius’s great escape from a murder verdict could be short-lived. There have been growing calls from South Africa’s top legal minds for the state to appeal against his conviction on the lesser charge of culpable homicide – a ruling that has shocked the nation and the world.
Judge Thokozile Masipa found on Friday that although the Olympic athlete had recklessly and negligently killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, he was not guilty of the more serious charge of murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
One of the country’s leading criminal law experts, Advocate Mannie Witz, said Masipa’s judgment needed to be considered by a senior bench to provide clarity for South African courts.
“The National Prosecuting Authority doesn’t have to appeal, but in all honesty, with the eyes of the world on us and the sharp debate among the legal fraternity about her interpretations, the country deserves clarity,” Witz said. “Only the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein can provide that.”
James Grant, professor of criminal law at the University of the Witwatersrand, said it was unlikely the NPA and prosecutor Gerrie Nel would be driven to act only by pressure from the public or from the legal fraternity.
“Having said that, Nel is under a duty to see that justice is done,” Grant said.
“The provisions of the law that allow the prosecution to appeal an error of law are clearly conceived to allow for justice to ultimately prevail. I expect Nel will take this step for these reasons, which are, in my view, the right reasons.”
They are just two voices in a growing chorus of legal commentators who have monitored the trial and the judgment and who have publicly questioned the Masipa judgment.
However, they are not in unanimous agreement on which aspect of the law they believe Masipa got wrong.
The NPA has formally stated it will announce any further legal action only after sentencing.