09 September 2014

Successes and shortcomings of the Oscar trial

Renowned defence lawyer, William Booth, believes that televising the Oscar trial increases transparency and holds South African magistrates and judges accountable for their actions.


Televising paralympian Oscar Pistorius's murder trial will hopefully open the gates to screening other important cases, defence lawyer William Booth said on Monday.

"I hope, post Oscar Pistorius, [that] the same will happen with other cases, some cases that are even more horrific than Oscar's case," he told the Cape Town Press Club.

He believed opening up court rooms around the country would increase transparency and hold magistrates and judges accountable for their conduct.

Media applications would need to be scrutinised on a case-by-case basis and exclude trials where children were involved.

Booth said it might even be possible to televise rape trials if victims were willing. He said a recent survey of United Kingdom rape victims revealed the majority were in favour of giving evidence while televised.

"The rationale is that they wanted to encourage more victims of crime, particularly rape and assault, to come forward.

"It doesn't have to become a circus."

Read: Oscar Pistorius and his Tinker Bell defence

Criticism of the trial
Booth said the televising of Pistorius's trial could be criticised to an extent.

"Traditionally, witnesses shouldn't talk to each other. What happened here is that every witness knew what the previous witness had said."

However, he believed witnesses would still have been able to pick up information from social media if the trial had not been on television.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will hand down judgement on Pistorius in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.

The athlete was charged with murder following the fatal shooting of his model and law-graduate girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He shot her through the locked toilet door in his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year. He claimed he mistook her for an intruder.

Booth predicted there was "quite a significant risk" that Pistorius could be convicted of killing an intruder, if not Steenkamp.

Read: Possible outcomes of the Oscar Pistorius trial

Possibility of an appeal
He was asked about the prospects of success of an appeal, should Pistorius be convicted of murder.

Booth said there were two possible grounds for appeal -- that of Pistorius claiming he was badgered by the State and that of witnesses not being called because they did not want to be televised.

"If your client is being badgered, you get up as a lawyer. You object. There is also duty on the judge. I don't believe you can sit back," Booth said.

It was a different matter if judges continuously overruled, he added.

Booth said the issue of witnesses was not a relevant point because the judgement on the televising of the case made provision for witnesses being called in camera.

Read more:
Oscar witnesses felt "attacked"
What is the police psychologist looking for in Oscar's testimony?
Nel nails Oscar as a deceitful witness

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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