Analysis: ‘Reporting of Pistorius evidence has been dangerous to justice’

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg in November. Picture: AP
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg in November. Picture: AP
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Clearly the South African judicial system and reporting rules are very different to our own.

Most commentators have been surprised by the amount of information that has come out, and the extent that the press has been able to report about the case.

In Scotland, this type of bail hearing would be conducted in private and the only issue to be resolved would be the interests of justice for the accused against the public’s protection in releasing the person. Very rarely would that focus on the evidence of the case – that would come out in the trial.

The risk is that the investigations are still at an early stage. From the defence practitioner’s point of view, at the first bail hearing we would have very little information about the prosecution’s case, so I would never consider advancing the defence case at that stage.

No plea is recorded, so you are not even at the stage where you have to say guilty or not guilty.

The press would not be present and certainly would not be able to report on the hearing, except to say bail had been granted or refused.

It is dangerous to provide so much information when inquiries are still at an early stage, when forensic and scientific evidence could yet emerge and play a crucial role.

My understanding of the South African judicial system is that cases are heard before a professional judge, rather than a jury.

But let us not forget, when the two men accused of the Lockerbie bombing appeared at trial, that was before a panel of Scottish judges and no jury. I don’t think anyone at that stage suggested we should follow the South African approach. I think the reporting of evidence in the Pistorius case has been dangerous to justice, as so much has entered the public domain.

Human nature makes it difficult, even for a professional judge, to try the case fairly and impartially in such circumstances.

• Peter Lockhart is a Scottish criminal defence solicitor.