Friday, March 30, 2012

#Dewani : Judge Halts Extradition

The extradition to South Africa of British businessman Shrien Dewani, accused of arranging the contract killing of his bride, Anni, during their honeymoon, has been temporarily halted on grounds of his mental health.

Two senior high court judges said it would be "unjust and oppressive" for him to be sent to South Africa until he recovered.

But, they added, it was plainly in the interests of justice that he was extradited as soon as he was fit.

Dewani, 32, a care home owner from Bristol, who denies any involvement in his wife's death, has been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe depression. His lawyers have argued that his health and his life would be at risk if he were extradited.

Dewani's Swedish-born wife, Anni, 28, was shot when a taxi the couple were travelling in was hijacked at night in the Gugulethu township on the outskirts of Cape Town in November 2010. Dewani and the taxi driver were forcibly ejected from the car, which was then driven off. She was found dead in the back of the abandoned vehicle the following day with a bullet wound to her neck.

Taxi driver Zola Tongo has admitted his part in the crime, and claimed in a plea agreement with South African prosecutors that Dewani ordered the carjacking and paid for a hit on his wife.

Dewani's extradition was ordered by District Judge Howard Riddle in August, and the British home secretary, Theresa May, has signed extradition papers.

But, Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Mr Justice Ouseley, have accepted Dewani's appeal against immediate extradition, and ordered that the case be sent back to Westminster magistrates court for a further hearing.

In a statement, Dewani's family said: "The Dewani family are grateful that the high court has upheld the appeal and blocked any attempt to extradite Shrien to South Africa now.

"Shrien is innocent and is determined to return to South Africa to clear his name and seek justice for his wife Anni.

"The high court has confirmed that extradition now would be 'unjust and oppressive'. The matter is still before the courts and so it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Members of Anni's family, including her father, Vimod Hindocha, packed into court three at the royal courts of justice for the one-minute hearing as the judgment was handed down.
Outside court, her sister Ami Denborg said the family now wanted Dewani to get better so he could return to South Africa.

"It would be oppressive to send him back if his health is not good, but we are happy as a family to hear that the court has decided that it is in the interests of justice that he will go back to South Africa.

"The court has rejected his appeal on human rights.

"I feel, we feel, that there are a lot of delays and it is very painful for us. But we want to get to the truth about what happened to our sister Anni.

"We just want him to get better now so he can finally go to South Africa to tell us what happened. We just want to know the truth because this is all about our dearest little sister who was murdered."

The judges said key factors they had taken into account included Dewani's unfitness to plead, increased prospects of a speedier recovery if he remained in the UK, and the lack of clear certainty over what would happen to him if he was returned to South Africa in his present condition. The risk of suicide was also considered, "to a much lesser degree".

In their ruling, the judges noted that Dewani's depression and PTSD had worsened after his arrest on 7 December 2010. On 20 February 2011 he took an overdose. He was admitted to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, and told the staff in the A&E department that he did not want to live, but denied to others that this was a suicide attempt.

The senior district judge, at his extradition hearing, had found it was a deliberate overdose to avoid engaging the extradition proceedings, said the judges.

He was discharged, as a condition of his bail, to the Priory Hospital as an inpatient. In April 2011 there was further deterioration in his condition, and he developed psychotic symptoms. His bail was varied so that he resided at a medium secure psychiatric unit.

Sir John Thomas said prison conditions in South Africa were not a basis on which to halt the extradition, and "his mental illness apart, it is plainly in the interests of justice that the appellant be tried in South Africa as soon as he is fit to be tried",

He added: "Thus balancing his unfitness to plead, the risk of a deterioration in the appellant's condition, the increased prospects of a speedier recovery if he remains here and, to a much lesser degree, the risk of suicide and the lack of clear certainty as to what would happen to the appellant if returned in his present condition, we consider that on the evidence before the senior district judge it would be unjust and oppressive to order his extradition.

"Despite the highest respect in which we hold decisions of the senior district judge, we consider that he erred and should have exercised his power under s.91(3)(b) and ordered that the extradition hearing should be adjourned.

"As a result, the high court has remitted the case back to Westminster magistrates' court for a further hearing."

Tongo has been jailed in South Africa for 18 years for his part in Anni's murder. Two other suspects, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni, who deny involvement, are awaiting trial in Cape Town.