The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has rejected the complaint filed against the State Prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius trial currently underway in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
The complaint, which was lodged on Friday last week, asked the SAHRC to investigate and rule on whether the State Prosecutor Adv, Gerrie Nel was permitted to refer to the accused Oscar Pistorius, as “a liar” while he was still on the witness stand.
The complainant believed the statement might have infringed Pistorius’ rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; freedom of expression; and human dignity, generally impacting on his right to a fair trial as contained in the Bill of Rights.
The Complaint to the SAHRC has since triggered a number of other complaints to the Commission relating to the trial of Mr. Pistorius.
The SAHRC considered the complaint within the context of basic fair trial rights protected in the Constitution. However on a close assessment of the facts of the matter, international jurisprudence, the Bar Council Rules, its own jurisdiction, and authority of the court, the complaint was rejected.
The SAHRC believes, that while there could be substance to complaints of this nature, the facts informing a particular complaint are material to its assessment. In this regard the SAHRC noted that the court had duly exercised its authority in the course of ongoing proceedings before it. It noted further that the witness was represented and that a right of recourse was available through the courts to take steps with regard to the proceedings should this be appropriate.
The SAHRC powers in such matters are informed by statute which does not allow it to investigate matters being heard before other judicial tribunals and forums, including courts of law, unless the matter concerns process. In this respect the SAHRC has satisfied itself that the authority of the court was appropriately engaged to ensure sanctity of process. It is was noted further that the court in which the violation is said to have occurred is still in session and the SAHRC remains mindful and respectful of the authority of the court and its ruling in the matter.
The SAHRC has also taken into account that applicable court procedures and rules aimed at protecting the rights of persons during the trial process are also in place. This includes in the first instance, the protections which are afforded to witnesses through their legal representative and the court itself during court proceedings and secondly, the recourse available through the institution of review and / or appeal proceedings, where circumstances warrant such action.
For these reasons, the SAHRC is satisfied that adequate protections are in place at the level of process and specifically for the witness and has decided not to pursue this matter further. The SAHRC however, urges members of the public to remain respectful of the authority of the court, the rights of commentators to expression, and the need to limit undue circulation of graphic material presented in court out of respect to the decedent and her family.
SOURCE: SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL NEWS