Three psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist will “observe” the behavior of South African murder accused, Oscar Pistorius, for 30 days starting next Monday. Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered this morning that Pistorius must “present himself as an outpatient” at a Pretoria mental hospital at 9 a.m. on May 26, and attend every weekday as required by the hospital’s medical superintendent.
The judge made the order in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in terms of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act that makes provisions for all the procedures and other related matters in criminal proceedings. She said he should remain at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital daily, until 4 p.m. “or until formally excused by the medical superintendent.” This means he could be allowed to go home earlier, or might be required to stay at the hospital until later each day.
While most patients committed to South Africa’s mental hospitals for observation are required to attend as inpatients, without the option of leaving the hospital, there is a precedent set in law that enables a judge to choose the outpatient option. While some critics maintain Pistorius is in effect being given preferential treatment, the counter-argument is that because of a severe bed shortages, it will in fact speed up the case.
In court for less than five minutes this morning, Judge Masipa said that Oscar Pistorius would be evaluated by a medical panel made up of Dr. L. Fine, psychiatrist for the defense, Prof. H.W. Pretorius, psychiatrist for the court, a third psychiatrist whom she did not name, and Prof. J. Scholtz, a clinical psychologist who is based at Weskoppies. It will be their function to ascertain whether Pistorius was incapable of “appreciating the wrongfulness” of his act – specifically shooting through a toilet door and killing Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year – and whether or not he appreciated the “wrongfulness” of the act, and therefore, whether he was “criminally responsible.”
Section 79 of the Criminal Procedure Act specifies how a medical panel should be appointment when an accused has been charged with murder, culpable homicide or other crimes involving “serious violence.” The world-famous paralympian has been charged with murder, and could receive life imprisonment if convicted. According to the Act, one psychiatrist on the panel should be from a psychiatric hospital (presumably the unnamed psychiatrist); another psychiatrist appointed by the court, who is not employed full-time by the State (Prof. Pretorius); a third psychiatrist appointed by the court for the accused (Dr. Fine); and if required by the court, a clinical psychologist (Prof. Scholtz).
The medical panel is required to submit reports to the registrar of the Supreme Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the accused, as soon as the observation process has been concluded and the reports compiled. All will have access to a full record of the court proceedings that began on March 3 this year.
The Hospital Oscar Pistorius Will Attend
Weskoppies is the largest psychiatric hospital in South Africa, and the oldest of its kind in Gauteng province. Its first patient was admitted in 1892 when it was called the Pretoria Lunatic Asylum. Set in amongst trees, the hospital is comprised of a group of Edwardian brick buildings and the main building is a National Monument.
The mental hospital is understood to be very close to where Oscar Pistorius’ uncle Arnold lives, and where Pistorius himself has been living for the past year, since he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. This close proximity will make it easy for him to attend the hospital as an outpatient for 30 days. Judge Masipa adjourned the court case to June 30.
By Penny Swift