Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Judge orders Pistorius to get psychiatric evaluation

Mental observation would ensure murder accused Oscar Pistorius gets a fair trial, Judge Thokozile Masipa said in the high court in Pretoria on Wednesday.

She ordered that he be sent for psychiatric evaluation after forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryll Vorster testified that he had general anxiety disorder. This prompted the state to lodge an application to refer him for observation. “This is not about anyone’s convenience but rather about justice being served,” Masipa said granting the state’s application. 

“I am satisfied that a case has been made out for the application, or the relief as sought by the state, and I shall grant that order.” 

Masipa said she was aware that the referral would cause more delays, but she believed it was in the interest of justice. She said the state should consider the possibility of admitting him as an out-patient. 

“The aim of referral is not to punish the accused twice.” 

Going over her order on Wednesday, Masipa said it was strange that the defence opposed the state’s application. Vorster’s evidence had brought to the court’s attention Pistorius’s criminal capacity when he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

Pistorius had a long history of general anxiety disorder that appeared to be increasing with time, Vorster said. Masipa said the court would not be able to determine Pistorius’s mental capacity “without the guidance of expert psychiatrists”. 

“There is also a possibility that there may be diminished criminal responsibility,” she said. “This court … is ill-equipped to deal with the issues raised in Dr Vorster’s evidence in this case … Dr Vorster’s report cannot replace a proper inquiry.” 

‘Free trial’
Masipa said Vorster only had two interviews with Pistorius, on May 2 and May 7, and she might have had little time to compile a report. “A proper inquiry … would ensure that the accused gets a fair trial,” she said. 

Pistorius is charged with murdering Steenkamp. He shot her dead through the locked door of his toilet in his Pretoria home on February 14 last year. He has denied guilt, saying he thought she was an intruder about to open the door and attack him. 

The state contends he shot her during an argument. Masipa said there had been allegations during the trial that Pistorius was not criminally responsible at the time of the shooting and that could not be ignored. 

“The allegations have been properly substantiated by the evidence of Dr Vorster,” she said. Vorster said Pistorius believed he heard an intruder before he shot Steenkamp, and had escalating levels of anxiety. She said his physical vulnerability made him more anxious and more likely to have a fight response rather than a flight response. 

This was because his disability made it difficult for him to flee from a threat. The specific order would be handed down next Tuesday. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the state and defence would help the court prepare the order. Barry Roux, SC, for Pistorius said the defence would seek to have both psychiatrists and psychologists observe Pistorius. Pistorius, dressed in a black suit, stood emotionless as Masipa spoke.

Shortly before the order was handed down, Roux spoke to Pistorius. After court he hugged members of his family. Steenkamp’s mother June, her cousin, and the Myers family were in court on Wednesday. Pistorius is also charged with three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act – one of illegal possession of ammunition and two of discharging a firearm in public. He has pleaded not guilty to these charges as well. – Sapa

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

The Democratic Alliance and illiberal liberalism’s glass ceiling

The DA appears to have abandoned its ambitions of 2016 and is set to lose further ground in the upcoming elections

Canna-business deal for Ingonyama Trust land

Foreign investment has been lined up for a joint venture with the Ingonyama Trust Board, which administers tribal land for the Zulu monarch

More top stories

The Democratic Alliance and illiberal liberalism’s glass ceiling

The DA appears to have abandoned its ambitions of 2016 and is set to lose further ground in the upcoming elections

ANC Durban election candidate shot dead while on door-to-door campaign

One other man was shot dead and two others were rushed to hospital with gunshot wounds

Rule of law drops globally, including in South Africa

Security and corruption prevents the country from ranking higher on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index for 2021

Slice of life: ‘I can read nine or 10 books...

David van der Westhuizen, a street bookseller based at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts Gallery in Durban, tells Paddy Harper how he survives unemployment

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…