South African Justice Vindicated

Miller Matola, CEO of Brand SA, sees vindication for South Africa’s judicial system in the Oscar Pistorius case and in the extradition of Shrien Dewani to SA to stand trial for allegedly hiring killers to to murder his wife.

Following the exceptionally high levels of global media interest and unrelenting coverage of the high profile murder trial of Paralympian athlete, Oscar Pistorius, the spotlight will once again be on our country, its constitutional state and the strength of its legal system, when Shrien Dewani arrives in the country following his impending extradition from the UK to answer questions in court about the murder of his wife.

Such trials are generating unprecedented media attention around the world and thousands of articles have already appeared in the global press, hours of television and radio coverage have been flighted with many more scheduled, and non-stop commentary and analysis emanates from the large numbers of international and local journalists and photographers now in the country reporting on events as they happen. It is perhaps a testimony to the country’s progress made during the past two decades that it can welcome the global media to see its world-class constitution and legal system in action.

As South Africa prepares to commemorate 20 years of democratic freedom, such high profile trials and judicial processes serve to remind both South Africans and the world that the country’s Constitution may still be fledgling in comparison to the English legal system for example, but it has undoubtedly put in place a substantial framework for the building of a society that is built on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights – the right to a fair trial being one of those rights.

Today, the South African Constitution is recognised as one of the most progressive in the world, an accolade based on its extensive social and economic rights provisions. Our strong and stable legal system is a fundamental building block of our constitutional democracy, as is the independence of our courts and our judiciary.

The Oscar Pistorius trial has also resulted in some groundbreaking approaches in the way that the judicial process is now reported upon in the country. The recent unprecedented decision taken by Gauteng Judge President, Dunstan Mlambo, to rule that all trial audio, and selected video, could be broadcast on radio, tv and online, was truly a new breakthrough in legal reporting process in South Africa, bringing South Africa into line with other democracies around the world. It also showed the world that South Africa is looking to actively fulfill its commitment to achieving greater transparency with its citizens in relation to the legal system, as embedded in the country’s Constitution.

Today, there is a respect for the right of the country’s citizens to expect an open and transparent system of justice. In the 20 years since South Africa achieved democratic freedom, the principle of the right to justice is one that is upheld for the world to see in action.

South Africa’s legal and institutional landscape has changed remarkably since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Today, the Constitution contains a comprehensive Bill of Rights that includes socioeconomic, as well as civil, political and cultural rights.

Since 1994, South Africa has become party to most key international human rights instruments, and there has been substantial legal and institutional reform.

The separation of powers between the judiciary and executive is firmly enshrined in the 1996 Constitution and also well recognised in South African case law.

Since 1994, the appointment process for judges and magistrates has been substantially revised, greatly increasing institutional protection for the independence of the judiciary.

Constitutional provisions also require progress in achieving racial and gender transformation.

In addition, a number of independent oversight institutions were established by Chapter 9 of the 1996 Constitution, most notably the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, and the Commission for Gender Equality.

Such Commissions are specifically tasked with the protection and promotion of human rights, and with particular monitoring and reporting functions relating to human rights. The Constitution protects the following social and economic rights: Environmental rights; property rights; the right to access adequate housing; the right to access healthcare, food, water and social security; an extensive children’s rights provision that includes the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic healthcare services and social services; and the right to basic and further education.

As South Africa looks to commemorate the country’s two decades of democratic freedom, every citizen can take comfort in the robustness and solidity of our legal system and our Constitution, both of which form the cornerstones of our democracy.

It hopefully sends a message to the world that, despite the huge volume of media headlines around high profile trials such as the impending Shrien Dewani legal process, and the current Oscar Pistorius trial, strong legal ethics define the process, with lawyers on both sides of the argument bound by the same ethical standards.

The global respect for the country’s Constitution, together with our system of justice and its robust implementation, is one that can serve to position Brand South Africa positively in the eyes of the world as it watches to see the outcome of such high profile trials.

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