Tag Archives: The Pistorius Trial

A couple of lessons we’ve learned from the Pistorius trial

So Oscar Pistorius has learned his fate. After a trial that seemed to go on forever, he has been found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) by judge Thokozle Masipa. All that is left now is for him to be sentenced – which will happen on October 13th. He could get fifteen years. he could be let off with a fine. In my opinion, anything less than 10 years is unacceptable. He killed another human being. End of story.
There are a couple of lessons that the legal systems in England and Scotland* can learn from the Pistorius trial however. The first one is that the jury system is not fit for purpose. As mentioned above it was a judge that decided Pistorius’ guilt or innocence (the fact that the judge was a black woman and she was deciding the fate of a white Afrikaner can be seen as part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy). I suspect a jury would have found Pistorius not guilty as they would have been starstruck by the Olympian. Besides why should non experts decide a human being’s fate? If your car breaks down you go to a qualified mechanic. if you’re ill you go to a doctor. If you’re in debt you go to a bank manager. All experts in their field. And yet to find out if a person is guilty of a serious offence you take people at random off an electoral register who might (or might not) understand law. An example of how this can go wrong was seen last year in the case of Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of former UK Cabinet minister and MP Chris Huhne. Her first trial collapsed because the jury could not understand the facts meaning a retrial was needed – a waste of taxpayers money which would not have happened had there been a judge deciding her fate. Another problem is coercion. If you are selected for jury duty you have to turn up. That means you will have people who don’t want to be there. I know. I was on a jury once**. I reckon two-thirds of us (myself included) did not want to be there. I suspect that must affect your behaviour when you are there. The jury system has lasted 800 years. It is an anachronism. Time for a change.
The Pistorius trial was televised. Last night on Sky News’ “Week Review” British journalists Kevin Maguire and Isabel Hardman both said court cases in the UK should be televised. They are wrong. In fact they are dangerously wrong. The fact that the Pistorius trial was televised turned the killing of an innocent young woman into a global soap opera which is totally unacceptable. Besides think of the witnesses. A lot of witnesses in the Pistorius trial said they were overwhelmed by being on television (even though they had the option not to allow their faces to be shown. Most chose not to). A court is scary enough as it is. In my time as a juror I found the court frightening and I was just watching and listening. And what of the victims? What if Reeva Steenkamp had been injured and not killed? Should she have to go through the ordeal of giving evidence on TV just to satisfy the lust of a celebrity obsessed culture? In my opinion, no. Just because the public are interested does not mean there is a public interest defence for showing trials on TV. Some things are too important to be turned into showbiz. Court cases are among these things. The only court cases on TV should be fictional.
Finally some people have said if Pistorius gets off with a fine he should be allowed to run again. NO. Sport has enough problems with its treatment of women as it is. A convicted rapist might be allowed to play football next year when he is out of prison. Wife beater Ray Rice was only banned from American football when video evidence emerged showing how serious his offence was. To allow someone who killed a woman to continue his athletic career would only make sport look like an industry where you can do what you want to women and still be welcomed back to the fold. Not good enough.
*Although the UK is still together (for a few days at least!) the Scottish legal system has always been separate from the rest of the UK. One example. In Scotland a jury has 15 members. In the rest of the UK there are only 12 jury members.
**The law does not allow me to say anything about the case.