Posted in disability, opinion, Parasport on March 23rd, 2016 by John Coxon

tv copyIn the RSA justice system’s post apartheid history, no one who has either killed an intruder or one of their own they mistook for an intruder has ever been treated as harshly or mercilessly as Oscar Pistorius.

In addition, no one  before  in a South African court  was forced to suffer the additional humiliation of having their trial turned into a reality TV soap for the  masses just to show that the law does no one any favours and especially if they are perceived as fair game in the form of a “privileged white boy” and also a global celebrity. In similar cases no custodial sentence was given and suspended sentences were handed down instead. Mercy was often also shown where a person accidentally killed a loved one mistaking them for an intruder and therefore deemed to have suffered enough living with that unbearable loss. They weren’t falsely branded a murderer.

scales of justice

No verdict, lawfully dismissed by a high court as murder and a rage domestic dispute killing has ever been taken by the prosecution to the Supreme Court of Appeal and perversely changed back to murder on their behalf. (This even though in dismissing the importance of the defendant “knowing” who he was shooting at as irrelevant, that SCA ruling also dismissed the domestic violence motive which was and remains the prosecution’s unproven case.)

Off track, still modest & courteous but beneath the strong confident man , on his day prosthesis he felt highly anxious & at times acutely vulnerable having had a lifelong history of threat & experience of actual crime.

Oscar Pistorius and his family have been and remain victims of constant ridicule, abuse and libel on social media and ongoing attempted further media intrusion. They are of course in a no win situation against such vitriol and cannot fight back or make any response. (That targeted highly personal abuse is also experienced by supportive  commentators like myself on Twitter  by those almost always anonymous individuals with no genuine argument to counter actual facts)  This on top of abuse in the form of a range of presumptuous salacious headlines around the world and at home pandering to the masses with falsehoods during and after the original trial.

clearly Oscar Pistorius is paying heavy price for his fame & the state seeking to capitalise from it.

The athlete has been and remains traumatised living with the knowledge that he killed the woman he loved. He has lost everything in the process – his home, health, his reputation, his career, his livelihood and the means to run competitively at the highest level ever again. He accepted responsibility for causing Reeva’s death and the custodial sentence he was given without objection. He accepted political interference with the parole system which delayed his lawfully earned early release from prison, and accepted four years house arrest under strict conditions without appeal or protest.

He, along with his family, accepted, in a dignified way, the prosecution’s further pursuit of their own verdict and blocking any attempt to appeal the Supreme Court of Appeal’s unprecedented and unduly harsh decision, all adding to the time this matter has taken to be resolved and added to the attendant anxiety and misery that has no doubt caused.

oscar pistorius at start

So can we get this straight? Because it seems  of his celebrity, the only actual privilege this white boy has been afforded by the RSA justice system is far harsher treatment than anyone previously for the same offence, regardless of class or race or status, and people think it is defensible that he deserves even harsher “special treatment” on April 18th? It is astonishing given these circumstances so many people still eagerly await him being punished even more with the maximum period in prison and furthermore, expecting the very Judge who , in all honesty , could not find him guilty of murder beyond all reasonable doubt, and yet demand she sentences him on a more serious charge she did not think him guilty of , that of wilful murder.

Accepting the manslaughter verdict  as the only reasonable outcome based on all evidence presented at the original trial and the  sentence, and  having been forced to endure all this uncalled for additional punishment already is surely punishment enough and the court ought now to show him mercy with any additional time to serve as a suspended sentence.



john coxon

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OSCAR PISTORIUS – Why South Africa’s television media’s self-interest was directly and indirectly complicit in the rewriting of the tragic script of poor Reeva Steenkamp’s death and the unjust revision of her famous boyfriend’s part from accidental killer to murderer.

Posted in disability, opinion, Parasport on March 12th, 2016 by John Coxon


tv copy

Trial’s serve justice & not for showcasing it on TV.

Scenario and Sub Plot

The South African Justice system has had a continuing serious image problem, post apartheid, having dispensed with the jury system  and the extraordinary decision to televise the Oscar Pistorius trial by one of its judges was seen as great way of making an example of its most famous son and through beating him up in front of a world wide TV audience this was supposed to  show that, regardless of race or income bracket, the system can actually dispense justice impartially. Sadly, permitting the trial to become a media circus and subsequent twists and discriminatory treatment Pistorius got to serve the state’s propaganda needs merely confirms to outsiders like myself that the current system is as yet incapable  of meeting best practice international justice standards or convincingly dispensing justice impartially.

Pistorius was in no way treated fairly and the claim , by the ill informed in the court of public opinion that he in fact got “special treatment” is a tragic joke. He was treated specially, but not in the sense ordinary people suggest -his actual rights were trampled all over, at trial and beyond  and he was made a scapegoat. He became the victim of an unprecedented and outrageous travesty of justice where  the prosecution, unable to get their trumped up murder conviction legitimately  they so desperately needed in what was a more or less fair trial, manipulated the higher court system  to reverse Judge Masipa’s reasonable verdict under the pretext she had failed to apply the law.

It is a cause of serious concern that Judge Masipa’s verdict was criticised and actually changed. She at least  had shown the integrity and moral courage  we’d expect , was under immense pressure including TV media interference and establishment expectations , and dismissed the prosecution’s self-fulfilling very shaky charge , and  replaced it with manslaughter as any decent established international justice system elsewhere would have done. The Supreme Court of Appeal’s outrageous decision to insult her independent, honourable ,  wise and fair  judgement to give the system and the National Prosecution its propaganda coup at the expense of justice simply defies belief.

scales of justice

Roots of South African Justice’s Image Problem  

Since apartheid fell in 1994 and multi-racial elections were introduced  the  emerging so called “rainbow nation”   state revised its judicial system. It replaced the Jury  with a single  judge, sometimes supported on the bench with colleagues who act as advisors.  Since then press headlines and television news broadcasts have contributed to the impression, however erroneous, that justice, in a range of criminal trials,  was dispensed not equally and fairly but dependent on race, social background and above all economic means.

No small part of this unfortunate image problem is down to the fact that South African police have so often been exposed for sloppiness  in their work  due to indiscipline, lack of skills and motivation and the incapacity to investigate cases effectively- leading to a number of cases collapsing and the guilty actually going free. A lucrative market has emerged for the legal profession where, with the best lawyers acting to defend a person charged with a serious offence , they are able to dig out , on the defendant’s behalf, fatal  flaws in the management of the case and win for them.

As a result this confirms and continues to confirm the unfortunate public perception that the quality of justice you receive in many cases was and remains still commensurate with the size of your bank account. And how many defendant’s without the financial means have been convicted because they could not afford to mount a rigorous expensive defence/ Indeed this is an unfair accusation that has  been so often thrown at Oscar Pistorius as if he bought or was trying to buy ,his way out of trouble when in fact his fame and wealth actually led to him into not getting a fair  trial or justice  and being made a scapegoat and bankrupting himself in the process .The South African TV news media were, in the end, cynically seeking to profit from the case involving a global celebrity, and are  culpable in this gross miscarriage of justice and him being branded a murderer.

oscar pistorius

Police incompetence undermines the credibility of the justice system

The Pistorius trial itself made it global public knowledge that police forensic units in South Africa fall way below  international expected standards. This is due to insufficient material and human resources, with too few laboratories and , since forensic specialists in modern South Africa  have been consistently underpaid,  there has been a huge exodus of skilled people moving into the private sector or going overseas. One of the most notorious examples of this all too common South African  problem of incompetent police forensic investigation work, can be found in  reckless and negligent gathering of fingerprint evidence and misinterpretation of  blood evidence  which led to the acquittal of Fred Van der Vyver in 2005, accused of murdering his young student girlfriend, and  who later won a case against the minister of police for malicious prosecution, and was awarded a huge amount of compensation in spite of very likely being guilty of that murder.

Alarmingly for the justice system , with likely its highest profile case  in recent history, early on , the Pistorius public bail hearing revealed further  examples of South Africa police crime scene incompetence and noticeably the  lack of police credibility in the form of lead Detective Hector Botha. It came to light under cross-examination from the defence that , through  his abject complacency, he made a series of serious incompetent procedural blunders  including corrupting the crime scene and it turns out  was  actually also under investigation himself  for attempted murder for allegedly shooting dead passengers in a minibus taxi in 2009.  The  rightly constantly  under siege from the press police force members who are a constant embarrassment to those in it, ( it  appears  the minority  who are actually professional, competent and ethical)  undermines and damages the justice system and unfairly dents its reputation. The prosecution service is always aided and abetted by their police and depends upon them to provide the solid evidence they need to gain valid verdicts. It appears that it is not unusual for police officers to be accused of committing crimes while exercising their duties and yet if not suspended they continue working. We recall the theft of valuable watches at the Pistorius case crime scene and some forty police officers having their mobile phones seized for having photographs of the athlete and the crime scene on them.

To clean up its image it should not be necessary to stage a show trial where instead the system needs to invest heavily in improving policing and police resources. So when the Pistorius trial was to be heard we have a justice system that feels it has an unfair image problem and a prosecution service impaired by serious issues  around police practices and none of the above want to be seen to fail when prosecuting their most celebrated case , that of a global celebrity. Allowing television was a cheap temporary fix that will have had no actual impact on how the justice system is viewed by the bulk of the population. Masipa, in the end, quite rightly dismissed the murder charge and replaced it with what it was , manslaughter. This was an heroic and honourable verdict but was also , crucially, an acute embarrassment to Nel, the National Prosecution Agency and the establishment justice system  who had hoped the original dodgy charge could be made to stick and make them and the  system look good.

The use of the Supreme Court of Appeal to massage the actual facts and then find a way of reversing Masipa’s judgement  was not justice but establishment tactics to try and appear to be impartial and robust and to fulfil by a gross  deceit, and be complicit in meeting the original purpose of televising the trail, that is to continue the pretence that the law is impartial.

How the Justice System pandered to media selfinterest

The televising of the Oscar Pistorius trial was of mutual benefit to both the Justice System and the avaricious media both seeking benefit from the athlete’s global fame. Coupled with that current self-consciousness and  South Africa’s justice system’s urgent desire  to be seen in a better light, it appears that Oscar Pistorius was the high  profile celebrity selected to fulfil that aim. Then , without prompting, in steps the vested interest media to help in that regard in the shape of opportunist  national television media organisations , acting on behalf of electronic, broadcast and print media, sensing the chance to milk the trial as a cash cow. This  in the guise of acting on behalf of public interest and “freedom of expression “seeking a judgement which would allow, for the first time, a trial to be broadcast on television. Why pick on Pistorius for any other reason than his global celebrity and why deny him justice to suit only the state’s aims. If Pistorius had not been a celebrity it is very doubtful that the prosecution would have successfully appealed Judge Masipa’s sentence and the SCA acted not in the interests of justice but to save face for the prosecution and perpetuate the myth that the system is equal an fair to all when it clearly is not.

Incredibly this request to televise was granted albeit in the knowledge that where  TV cameras are present this would very likely influence the behaviour of witnesses and lawyers, put undue pressure on the defendant and would be at the expense of a fair trial. Barry Roux made such objections and was over-ruled and  thus the greed inspired news & TV media representatives worked with the NPA alone and won their lucrative deal. The NPA clearly had a vested interest in allowing cameras in also. This was made possible because of , to my mind , a reckless and naïve judgment on the part of  the Judge President of the Pretoria High Court, one Dunstan Mlambo on 25th February 2014. Here  Multichoice (Pty) Ltd and others challenged  the National Prosecuting Authority to be allowed television access to the Pistorius trial. It was not a challenge per se because the NPA  had a vested interest in nailing the athlete with a fake charge for its own aggrandisement .

Media lawyer Dario Milo was involved in leading the application for allowing cameras in  on behalf of Multichoice, Combined Artistic Productions (the producer of the Oscar Pistorius Trial: A Carte Blanche Channel), and Primedia Broadcasting, the owner of EyeWitness News. He  sees his and his law firms’ success as a huge victory for press freedoms rather than what it was , the absolute  low point in press and media in terms of lack of ethics and professionalism  , actually further undermining the justice system and replacing it with trial by media for profit and this , incredibly , with a judge’s collusion.  The judge’s full yet shallow argument in favour of this impertinent request can be found here

Mlambo’s Judgement

I take the view that this was not  in the interests of justice and was interference in legal proceedings and affected the way the trial  was conducted and was profit not  ethics led. This decision actually empowered the awful gutter tabloid “Carte Blanche” TV channel  to focus on the trial and thereafter specialise  in salacious headlines and broadcasting misinformation when pandering to the lowest common denominator in the most obscene way redefining the notion of lawful public interest as justification for cameras in court  – It was and in fact still is providing entertainment junk food for the masses at the athlete’s expense.

If in any doubt that this decision to televise was actually not for state propaganda purposes , assisted and supported by a complicit South African television media, look no further than Judge Mlambo’s  justification for allowing  this prejudicial  media intrusion at the Pistorius trial and granting the broadcast media rights those cynical exploitative media vested interest applicants  were in no way worthy of obtaining.

Mlambo said South African democracy was relatively young, and acknowledged a view that “the justice system is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable”. Enabling a larger section of South African society to get a first-hand look at the trial would go a long way in dispelling “these negative and unfounded perceptions” about the justice system, he said. Curiously the judge recognised the conflict of interest “The court recognised that the case raised a conflict between the right to a fair trial, on the one hand, and the right to freedom of expression and the media and the principle of open justice, on the other” but seemed to place a fair trial beneath  what he saw as broadcasting enabling a larger number of the public to experience the justice system first hand.

In his  self congratulatory cursory  blog entry April 3rd 2014 “Musings on the media” Dario Milo details how the RSA media got their way having the trial broadcast and in fact makes very little balanced reference to how such a awful precedent impacts unfairly on the defendant’s rights and or impacts on the outcome of the trial. He concludes with the vanity that, in achieving the right to broadcast in this instance he and his fellow applicants have done the world a favour and he also makes the fatuous presumption that “ Mlambo JP’s judgment, is also  now a leading precedent for broadcast access to criminal trials around the world.” There is no way for example that this judgment would have any impact or relevance in the English law system which continues to exclude cameras or recording devices precisely for the same reasons that Oscar Pistorius’ defence team were so opposed to cameras at the trial – namely it is not commensurate with the over-arching necessity to ensure a fair trial.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that the system’s image is indeed and still remains tarnished and  was and is  dire and selective still,  and still does continue to be based on the income brackets of defendants simply because South Africa’s police are not fit for purpose. Their shoddy practices empower those with the means to buy a decent lawyer to avoid conviction and build a solid defence focusing on police shortcomings in the management of cases. By making this a television epic it became far more likely that the appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal by the prosecution would succeed  based on the fact that this was a selective show trial where regardless of actual justice being delivered the SCA gave the prosecution and the state the scalp it needed for propaganda purposes.

Milo and his associates no doubt earned a fat fee in gaining TV access to the court proceedings for their wealthy clients and were therefore complicit in the infringement of the athlete’s rights. There is no doubt too that the torrent of abuse that the athlete and his family have had to endure on social media is the direct result of the televising of the trial and programmes made by the channel on top of streaming the proceedings live. They are directly implicated in helping to ensure that this clearly became a miscarriage of justice of epic proportion.

john coxon

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