National

Oscar Pistorius gets to travel, and have a drink

Phillip De Wet

Two bail conditions imposed on murder-accused Olympian Oscar Pistorius have been set aside by the high court in Pretoria.

Oscar Pistorius. (Felix Karlsson, M&G)

Pistorius will be able to travel out of the country to compete, the court ruled on Thursday afternoon, and he has also been freed from supervision, meaning he can drink alcohol, and regain a measure of privacy.

After just under two hours of argument, judge Bert Bam was scathing in his criticism of the bail conditions imposed on Pistorius by magistrate Desmond Nair in February. Nair had "misguided himself" on several points, Bam said, was "patently wrong" in places, and had imposed "punitive" conditions on the Blade Runner.

"I could find no reason why the appellant should be forbidden to leave the Republic of South Africa," Bam said, before granting Pistorius all the relaxed bail conditions he had asked for.

The R1-million Pistorius had to put up as guarantee will remain in place, but all the most stringent other conditions were scrapped.

That means Pistorius's lawyers will now hang on to his passport, and provide it whenever he needs to travel. The only requirement is that he provides prosecutors with an itinerary at least a week before leaving the country, and that he return his passport to his attorney within 24 hours of returning to South Africa.

Pistorius was not insensitive to the seriousness of the charges against him, defence advocate Barry Roux argued, and did not want to "jump on a plane and travel outside this country" or have "a nice holiday in Mauritius". But if the opportunity arose to compete, he said, Pistorius would want to travel "under controlled circumstances".

There were no near-term prospects for such competition, Roux conceded, but although the state intends to proceed with the case before the end of the year, things could well drag out beyond that.

Unfair conditions
But prosecutor Gerrie Nel, while saying he could not support all the bail conditions that had been imposed by Nair, on Thursday argued strongly against giving Pistorius back his passport. Pistorius had pre-emptively agreed to surrender his travel documents, Nel said, but now, only a short time later, wanted to argue that requiring him to give up his passport was unfair.

The National Prosecuting Authority said it would not appeal the ruling, and would focus instead on the upcoming murder trial.

Bam also threw out the bail condition that made Pistorius subject to unannounced visits by probation officers any time of the day or night, saying it was "absolutely unfair, unreasonable" and disregarded his right to privacy. It is, Bam said, a "punitive element inconsistent with the principles of bail".

That leaves Pistorius free to travel around the country, to drink alcohol, and to refuse a drug test.

Bam also confirmed that Pistorius is free to return to his home, where he shot Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day, and need not report to a police station on a regular basis.

In addition, Bam threw out the curious condition that Pistorius would be jailed on being charged with violence against a woman, before any ruling in such a complaint.

During arguments for and against bail in February, Nel said that Pistorius is a flight risk, because he had friends and accommodation abroad, plus a sense of exceptionalism and a lack of appreciation for the seriousness of the crime. When the realisation struck, he implied, Pistorius could hoof it.

Asked by Nair what kind of life Pistorius could expect to lead if he were to run. "A life of freedom," the prosecutor responded. "A life not in prison."

But Roux told the magistrate that Pistorius could not even pass through airport security without his prosthetic legs – and thus his identity – being detected.

Nair laid down bail conditions considerably more strict than the state had asked for. In terms of an agreement between the parties presented to the magistrate, bail would have been set at R250 000, Pistorius would report to a police station twice a week, and he would neither go home nor leave the country.

Nair instead set bail at R1-million, required Pistorius to hand in his firearms, restricted him to Pretoria barring special permission, and made him subject to probation, with spot inspections and drug and alcohol tests by state officials.


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