Ashish Sewgoolam
Ashish Sewgoolam

Innocent ’til proven guilty…

I, like many, have been following the Oscar Pistorius saga on Twitter. The plethora of tweets on one topic is something that I have not seen before. Almost everyone seems to have an opinion, a view on what happened and how it went down, and some, maybe even most, have a verdict.

Yesterday Pistorius was granted bail and the backlash was extreme. It seems many who are following the story with keen interest have a limited understanding of the judicial system yet think that they are now legal experts. These same people are reacting to bail being granted like he was found not guilty.

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat is a Latin term that translates as: “The burden of proof lies with who declares, not who denies.” This is commonly referred to as “innocent till proven guilty”.

These are words that most should be familiar with and have likely heard at one point or another. The reality is that these aren’t just words bandied about. They are engrained in Roman law, civil law, Islamic (sharia) law and common law. This notion is even found in our very own South African Constitution in the Bill of Rights — “every accused person has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent, to remain silent, and not to testify during the proceedings”.

Even the UN has this incorporated into The Declaration of Human Rights where Article 11 reads as follows:
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

With this case receiving a lot of international coverage and views coming in from celebrities from all over the world via Twitter, opinions are certainly flying around. Piers Morgan is having his say, Trevor Noah has made a few jokes, and even John Cleese broke his twitter silence to make an Oscar joke.

Then you have footballers, like Joey Barton, adding their two cents and last but not least Perez Hilton, the most foreknown paparazzi celebrity gossip blogger has even given his opinion on the matter.

For the most part, these celebrities are using the case as a medium to draw attention to themselves and garner more followers. In some cases it is even aligned with their jobs. But I feel that we owe it to ourselves as South Africans to rise above the temptation to rant by making presumptions over social media and give the man a fair chance to stand trial.

I am not condoning his actions in the least. His actions as documented in his affidavit seem like he had intent to kill, whether it be Reeva or an intruder. As for whether it was accidental or not, this remains to be adjudged in a court of law from June 4.

I am not against some of the views and opinions about the case. I’m even okay with some of the banter with trending topics like #ThingsFoundInOscarsHouse and #SinceNairsReadingStarted but it is not up to us pass the verdict. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. They have to collect and present enough compelling evidence to convince the court, which is obliged to consider only actual evidence and testimony that is legally admissible as well as lawfully obtained, that the Oscar is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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