Judge Masipa and reasonable doubt

Letter to the LRB:

In Bantu in the Bathroom (LRB 19.11.15) Jacqueline Rose sadly overlooks what was good about the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Amidst the issues, Judge Masipa recognised that her task was to decide what Oscar Pistorius could and couldn’t be convicted for, and stuck to it. It strikes me as being extremely good, a great social achievement, that in today’s South Africa – unlike 1990s LA – such a trial can be conducted so diligently. Judge Masipa had to decide only whether there was reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp; and if he didn’t, whether there was reasonable doubt that he intended to kill whoever else it was he took to be behind the bathroom door. Clearly there is reasonable doubt that a man with no history of domestic violence – unlike OJ Simpson – would shoot his girlfriend. Furthermore, there clearly is reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius was in no state other than one of blind panic at the thought of an armed intruder around the corner. Yet it seems that Jacqueline Rose and others take reasonable doubt and Judge Masipa’s verdict as a sign of ‘”compassion”‘. She concludes that she has learnt that we must not try to “disavow our hatreds”. Oscar Pistorius should have been convicted because of our hatreds? I don’t try to disavow my hatreds – heaven forbid! – but from Judge Masipa I think I have learnt again the advantage of subjecting them to reasonable doubt.


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