The Star Early Edition
Don’t deliver justice in anger
FIRST it was Judge Thokozile Masipa with her inexplicable leniency upon sentencing Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Judge Masipa had initially found Pistorius guilty of a lesser charge of culpable homicide after swallowing his improbable “intruder” version line, hook and sinker. Even for a layman, such a version is only possible in fables.
Following the State’s appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal which upheld a murder conviction for Pistorius, the same Judge Masipa found it appropriate to impose a “shockingly inappropriate” sentence of six years in jail. This after Pistorius had cold-bloodedly shot his girlfriend four times through a toilet door claiming he had mistaken her for an intruder. The case drew a lot of commentary with many arguing correctly the judge had erred. One is reminded of the words of the Latin writer, Publius Cyrus when he commented many years ago that “the judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted”. Much as Pistorius was not outright acquitted, the leniency of his sentence is bizarre, to say the least.
Fast forward (to) October 2017, another judge who goes by the name Segopotje Mphahlele has done it again. This time the honourable judge has deemed it fit to sentence two young men to 16 and 19 years imprisonment with five years suspended for both for what can in all honesty be regarded as a cruel prank.
By all accounts, the actions of Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson in forcing their victim, Victor Mlotshwa into a coffin were reprehensible and deserving of punishment. What baffles the mind is their conviction on a charge of attempted murder. Proving attempted murder should not be very difficult as the victim in almost all circumstances is alive and present.
The video of the coffin assault shows the accused forcing the complainant into a coffin with no evidence of any severe beating. The victim himself did not show any visible injuries that might have led to his death.
The media attention, owing to the racial undertones of the case, might have swayed the judge with accusations of the racism of the accused brought to the fore. It must be remembered that courts have a function of dispensing justice and not revenge. It is therefore expected judges apply their minds and not their hearts when presiding over cases. Politics, anger or any other emotion should not be the determining factors when adjudicating over cases which impact on lives.
The learned judge would be well advised to heed the words of the Roman politician and lawyer of yore, Marcus Tillius Cicero when he opined that “anger should be especially kept down in punishing, because he who comes to punishment in wrath, will never hold that middle course that lies between the too much and the too little. It is also true that it would be desirable they who hold the office of judges should be like the laws which approach punishment not in a spirit of anger but on one of equity.”
Courts have a function of dispensing justice not revenge