Judge ruled that Pistorius must undergo psychiatric tests

By Updated at 2014-05-14 17:08:07 +0000


The trial of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp suffered another delay as the judge ruled that the athlete must undergo mental health tests in a psychiatric hospital to determine whether he was criminally responsible for the shooting.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said on Wednesday that the court was ill-equipped to decide whether the diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder raised by a defence witness on Monday affected Pistorius's actions on the night he shot his girlfriend in the bathroom of his home in Pretoria. She said further psychiatric tests were necessary to ensure a fair trial.

Pistorius denies murder and says he fired in fear of his life, after hearing what he thought was an intruder.

The court will reconvene on Tuesday to hear the terms of the mental health evaluation, including whether the state and judge will agree to the defence's request that Pistorius be treated as an outpatient. Masipa indicated she would not oppose this, saying she did not intend for Pistorius to be punished twice. The athlete is currently on bail.

The defence had opposed the application by the state, pointing out that neither side was arguing that Pistorius was mentally ill when he shot Steenkamp. But its argument was undermined by evidence given by one of its own witnesses, forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryll Vorster, who told the court that Pistorius's generalised anxiety disorder, combined with his physical vulnerability – he had both lower legs amputated as a baby – could have affected his actions.

Delivering her ruling, Masipa said: "The accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible at the time of the incident in so many words, but evidence led on his behalf clearly raised the issue and cannot be ignored.

"A referral inevitably means more delays in finalising this matter but this is not about anyone's convenience, but rather about whether justice has been served."

Typically, a referral of this kind would involve 30 days of observation, followed by a similar period for reports to be compiled. The waiting time for an inpatient place at specialist psychiatric institutions in South Africa is reported to be several months long, but treatment as an outpatient could see Pistorius's evaluation begin much sooner. The trial, which began on 3 March, was originally timetabled to run for three weeks, but this decision means it will now span several months.

The judge's decision to allow the referral surprised the defence – Pistorius had told reporters in court on Monday, after the state prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, made the application, that the move was "a joke".

But speaking outside court on Wednesday, Arnold Pistorius, uncle of the Paralympian, said the family was satisfied with the decision: "As a family, we are comforted by the thoroughness and detail of this judgment and Judge Masipa's commitment, using every avenue, to ensure a fair trial."

Pistorius could be acquitted if the evaluation concludes that he was not criminally responsible for the shooting because of a mental illness. Any psychiatric disorder could also be used in mitigation during sentencing if he is convicted of killing Steenkamp.

Nel has said that the state does not believe Pistorius has a mental illness, but told the judge the court must make the referral to avoid the possibility of the defence raising it in any future appeal.