Oscar Pistorius was not present at the appeal against his bail conditions on Thursday, but he would likely have been a happy man after hearing the result. The major reason for returning to court seemed to be to appeal against the restrictiveness of the murder-accused athlete’s travel restraints, and it didn’t take long for Judge Bert Bam to rule that Pistorius can indeed leave the country. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Pistorius’s advocate Barry Roux seemed to be in fine form in court on Thursday, suggesting that the bail conditions imposed on Oscar Pistorius in February amounted to a house arrest. When Pistorius was granted his R1 million bail and released from police custody, it was with a set of stringent restraints laid down by magistrate Desmond Nair: supervision by a probation officer; compulsory random drug and alcohol testing; no return to the Silver Woods estate where the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp took place; and no leaving South Africa.
It was the latter condition that was held to be the sticking point. When Nair granted Pistorius bail, he said that one of his reasons for doing so was that he did not agree with the prosecution’s argument that Pistorius was a flight risk. This point formed the basis of Roux’s arguments for the return of Pistorius’s passport – or, more accurately, his arguments for Pistorius’s right to access his passport under certain conditions. Roux stressed that Pistorius did not want to hop on a plane and take a holiday, but that it might become necessary for the athlete to travel overseas to earn an income. Roux also pointed out that there was no telling how long the case might drag on for.
Roux argued further that Pistorius’s ban on drinking alcohol was non-standard; and that Pistorius should be allowed to re-enter his house on the estate in due course. He also criticised Nair’s seeming disregard of the bail condition agreement which had been brokered between the prosecution and the state prior to Nair’s ruling. These bail restrictions were more lax than those imposed by Nair. Roux argued that Nair’s arrival in court with his ruling typed out showed that he had already made up his mind in advance on the bail conditions he wished to set.
For the state, advocate Gerrie Nel pointed out that Pistorius’s defence team, when arguing that the athlete should be granted bail, had offered to hand in his passport and said that he had no intention of leaving the country. Nel also indicated that the trial would not drag on, as Roux had suggested. Nel said that after serving indictments on Pistorius in June, they expected to go to full trial before the end of the year. He was unable, however, to quibble with the suggestion that Nair’s arrival with bail conditions typed out suggested a certain inflexibility in the magistrate’s decision on the matter.
Judge Bert Bam did not take long with his deliberations. He returned to announce that he found that magistrate Nair had been wrong to deny Pistorius access to his passport, and warned that bail should not be used as a tool to inflict an “anticipatory punishment”. Bam said that Pistorius must provide the NPA with his travel plans at least a week prior to leaving the country, and must return his passport to the court within 24 hours of returning. He also ruled that Pistorius be allowed to re-access the Silver Woods estate.
Bam did note the severity of the charge against Pistorius, but said that he could not find that Pistorius was a flight risk given the extent of his assets, family and so on in South Africa. He made it clear that he felt magistrate Nair had erred in several aspects of his ruling on bail conditions.
Naturally, the relaxing of Pistorius’s bail conditions does not amount to some kind of behavioural blank cheque. If it were to be established that Pistorius were planning an escape, attempting to intimidate witnesses, or doing anything else to hamper the path of justice, the bail issue can be recalled to court.
It’s unclear what Pistorius proposes to do with his newfound freedom of movement. When Judge Bam inquired whether Pistorius hoped to imminently return to international competition, Roux replied that that plan was not within his near future. Pistorius’s agent Peet van Zyl earlier this month denied to media that the athlete had any plans to re-enter competition: “He’s been withdrawn from all international competitions, and I haven’t re-entered him into any of those,” van Zyl told the Independent. “He’s not even training.”
Pistorius’s situation is in some ways slightly different now from when he was initially released on bail in February. At the beginning of March, for instance, the mayor of the Italian town of Gemona – where Pistorius had previously been sponsored to live and train for months at a time – told Rapport that the sponsorship had been dropped. Mayor Paolo Urbani specified that officials were “not angry with him”, but it’s uncertain whether he would be welcomed back at this time.
Despite Roux’s denial that Pistorius was looking for a holiday, earlier this month it was reported that the Pistorius family was keen for the Paralympian to spend some time on his uncle Arnold’s farm in Mozambique to avoid the media spotlight. “When I travel I’d like to take him with me,” his uncle reportedly2 told the Daily Voice.
However Pistorius chooses to use his new travel liberty, he will have to use it with prudence. His family and advisers will be conscious that it would be catastrophic PR if he were to be assumed to be living it up in some way, or even appearing to be continuing with life as if nothing had happened. Access to his passport may get Pistorius on a plane, but it certainly won’t give him his life back. DM
Photo:Oscar Pistorius’s lawyers Barry Roux (L) and Brian Webber prepare documents before the start of the application to appeal some of his bail conditions at a Pretoria court in Pretoria March 28, 2013. The lawyers of South African paralympic sprinter Pistorius are set to appeal some of his bail conditions after the sports star was charged with the pre-meditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle