/ 10 March 2009

Experts slam medical evidence in Shaik’s release

A doctors’ report recommending that fraud convict Schabir Shaik be considered for medical parole partly due to the ”suboptimal” conditions in prison hospitals is not a valid reason for parole, legal experts said on Tuesday.

The head of cardiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal school of medicine, Dr Naidoo, said in the report addressed to the head of the Westville prison in September 2008 that Shaik was not responding to medication and suffered organ damage. The report was co-signed by Dr S Khan, a principal specialist in cardiology.

Naidoo and Khan outlined that Shaik ”has had a lengthy stay under specialist care, without effect”.

”Despite our best efforts, Mr Shaik’s pressure remains refractory to medication. He remains at risk for a stroke, heart attack and blindness,” the doctors said.

”We cannot keep him in hospital indefinitely and since the prison authorities are reluctant to manage him at the prison hospital, where conditions are suboptimal, we recommend that he be considered for medical parole,” their report concluded.

The full medical report (pdf)

Lukas Muntingh, coordinator of the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, said Shaik’s release raises questions about the consistency of medical parole boards and the medical evidence provided by doctors.

”Imprisonment generally has adverse effects on people’s health. We might as well then grant all prisoners parole due to bad conditions,” Muntingh said.

Advocate Brenda Wardle, who deals with parole cases, agreed with Muntingh, saying: ”Suboptimal conditions in prison hospitals is not a basis for parole. The conditions are the same for all prisoners, not just for Shaik.”

It is believed that Naidoo and Khan’s report is one of the recommendations on which the parole board based its decision to grant Shaik medical parole.

”Doctors reports make up about 98% of the parole board’s recommendation. The doctors’ qualifications and recommendations play a big role in the decision,” Wardle said.

She emphasised that in terms of the law, Shaik should be granted parole only if he is in the final phase of a terminal illness. ”If doctors have not said that he is terminally ill and the parole board still granted him parole, then this is a basis for a review,” Wardle explained.

Shaik was released on medical parole last Tuesday after serving two years and four months of his 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption.

Meanwhile, the Health Professionals Council of South Africa said on Monday it would investigate three doctors who allegedly approved Shaik’s release on medical parole. This followed a complaint lodged by the Democratic Alliance, requesting that the council probe whether the doctors acted in compliance with the rules of medical parole.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Monday wrote to Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour for a review of Shaik’s parole.

SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen said ”inconsistencies” had emerged in the manner in which the Correctional Services Act was being applied. The review board, he said, might provide clarity in terms of how it should be applied in practice.

The Correctional Services Department could not be reached for comment.