We've had yet another hearing in the ongoing saga of Shrien Dewani's desperate and determined struggle to avoid standing trial for the murder of his wife.
Of course he may be entirely innocent, but the nature of this ongoing battle to avoid having to take any chance of trying to prove his innocence, continues to look more like the wriggling of someone who knows he's guilty, than the efforts of someone who wants to establish innocence.
Yet again the desperately naïve and ill-informed British courts continued to treat Dewani uniquely leniently and indulgently. It's hard not to be repetitious in commenting on the ridiculous hearings, as the same strange errors get repeated. Genuine expert testimony is still lacking. The very peculiar conduct of the pair of partners who misled the courts into believing they were the truly independent opinion required, while signing joint reports so sublimely meeting the needs of Dewani's defence, continues to be ignored by the British authorities. This was, on the face of it, grossly unprofessional and improper behaviour. Why is that taking so extraordinarily long to investigate and deal with this?
Years ago, while I was waiting to testify in a major court case, I was shocked (those were the days when I could still be shocked, occasionally) to hear one of the senior lawyers tell a series of whoppers. "But those statements are all lies!" I whispered to the advocate who had sought my advice. "Of course", he replied - "All the times you've been in court - have you ever heard one of the lawyers take an oath and promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?"
All statements come from lawyers
Obvious, really, but surprisingly easy to overlook. And even judges and magistrates sometimes seem to forget that lawyers make grand and impressive statements in court, which may seem to reflect facts, but actually are simply designed to further and benefit their case. They should never be taken seriously unless established by proper independent expert testimony, of which there seems to have been very, very little in this case.
All the news reports have to quote so eloquently, are the claims of his lawyers, and this time round (maybe because last time the court showed minor signs of waking up to the bizarre nature of the story they were being told) the claims are ever more fanciful and peculiar.
We're told he's now terrified of travelling by car! It's not at all typical in PTSD to develop new symptoms after over 18 months of supposedly competent treatment. And why would he be scared of being in a car, when the hi-jacking occurred in a van, and not a car? Even more unbelievably, the court was told that this husky husk 'has been spending his days playing computer games in a camper van parked at a secure mental hospital in Bristol' - precisely the sort of vehicle he should be most terrified of entering. How can he be having, as claimed, flashbacks of his wife's killing, if, as his team assert, he wasn't there at the time it happened?
Is there nobody in that court with even a shred of common sense?
More and more elaborate symptoms
It's really curious that after so many months of spectacularly and uniquely unsuccessful treatment, his symptoms continue to get more elaborate and vivid. He "has described to doctors how he can still smell the breath of the man who held a gun to his head". Great script writing! Spending all that time on the computer - is he just playing games, or looking up the symptoms of PTSD?
His ever-eloquent attorney called him a "husk of a man", though others might suggest a different description. Describing his bail conditions, she asserted that, "He cannot travel by car as he has a severe reaction, he doesn't want to get into a travelling car or go outside... He doesn't even want to go to the shops on his own." Yet apparently his team want him to be given even more generous bail conditions, to allow him to do what he supposedly dreads. "In his current state it is unthinkable he would be able to plan any escape, let alone effect one." Is that the opinion, based on expert assessment, and sworn to, by a competent and independent forensic psychiatrist? Or is it the view of his so sympathetic lawyer?
The British courts have been content to bend over backwards to accommodate the demands of Dewani's team, and to ignore and worsen the suffering of the family of his murdered wife. They seem to feel, entirely wrongly, that he must somehow achieve a pinnacle of superb mental health he may never have managed previously in his life, before he can be eligible for an extradition hearing. This is of course utter rubbish. All that is required is that, in the opinion of appropriately genuinely expert witnesses, he be not so seriously and globally impaired by his illness, as to be unable to understand what the hearing is about and to advise his lawyers. That's all.
Requirements for extradition
It's a peculiar and challengeable point that it seems to have been assumed all along that he has been constantly competent to understand the case well enough to be able to instruct his lawyers to oppose extradition and continue the legal writhings that have kept him in Britain.
If not so, then isn't it somewhat irregular if they've been proceeding through all these years without competent instructions from him, merely assuming that they're representing his true wishes and interests? Is it OK to proceed without proper instruction from an incompetent client to oppose an extradition hearing- but not to proceed to such a proper hearing itself? If he's as incompetent as they claim - how do they know this is what he want? Can they take instructions, instead, from his family? That would be irregular. What if their wishes and interests were not his But if he is competent enough to oppose extradition so fiercely, but by informal proxy, why is he not competent enough to do so in court?
Hugo Keith QC, representing the South African authorities, said Dewani was aggressive towards staff and had fought against treatment. His psychiatrist Dr Paul Cantrell, admitted Dewani has "adapted poorly" to treatment. What does that mean? He seems to have tried his hardest to avoid proper and effective treatment.
This judge agreed to moving Dewani from Fromeside high security hospital where he has been lately (if he's so profoundly husked, how can it make much difference to him?) to the Blaise View community-based rehab unit in Bristol, which has a more "open, relaxed and calm environment". If he's so hugely impaired he can't face an extradition hearing, how can he possibly be fit for rehab? Will he remain under the care of the same spectacularly ineffective treatment as before, from the same ineffective doctors?
As he continues to get worse rather than better with whatever odd treatment he is receiving, isn't it high time a different treatment team were brought in to assess him and try more energetic therapy? I can't find records of any other extradition case in British or indeed world legal history, in which someone was enabled to use claims of mental illness into such an indefinitely long delay of proceedings.
The endlessly accommodating judge now has postponed any further formal hearing of his extradition until July next year, amazingly. And according to the Guardian newspaper, said " Dewani could be moved from a secure hospital to one with a more relaxed feel to help him recover." How sweet!
Why have the South African authorities not been far more aggressive in demanding that the British courts stop treating this one man with such unique indulgence, and man up to facing the facts realistically?
On Monday, the ANC Woman's League will be marching in Pretoria, to the British Embassy, to demand the extradition of Dewani back to South Africa. Hats off to them! If I could walk that far, I'd gladly join them!
(Professor M.A. Simpson, Health24, December 2012)