George woman makes international headlines

Lara Johnstone, 43, filed an Amicus Curiae application with the Westminster Magistrate’s Court from South Africa, presenting an argument that Dewani would not receive a fair trial if extradited to South Africa and should be allowed to stand trial in the UK. The case was presented at the start of Dewani’s extradition trial on 20 January, which was postponed to 8 February, due to Dewani’s health.

On Tuesday 1 February, Dewani’s publicist Max Clifford said his client was still ill and would not be present at the 8 February hearing.

Johnstone, who works as a vermicompost worm farmer in George, South Africa, trained as a paralegal through Damelin, but has been unable to find work in the field since graduating.

Speaking to The South African, Johnstone said that she did not believe judicial standards in South Africa were the same as the UK. “I filed [the application] because I don’t think he’ll get a free and fair trial,” Johnstone said. “If we can’t give people free and fair trials, we should just set up bullets to the head.”

Nalini Gangen, director of the Cape Law Society, says, however, that Ms Johnstone’s views are “without substance or legal basis”.

“There is no reason to doubt that Mr Dewani would receive a fair hearing. South Africa has one of the best constitutions in the world and the Constitution provides for the instruments of democracy to be protected. The Constitution provides for the separation of powers and in particular the independence of the judiciary.

“South African legal processes are clearly defined and any accused would have the freedom of choice of legal representation.

“We have confidence in our judiciary,” she added.

Amicus Curiae, which translates as Friend Of The Court, refers to someone, unconnected to a case, who volunteers information to a court for a matter before it. It is filed in the form of an affidavit, and can be put to a court by any citizen or organisation at any time, even if they have no previous involvement in a case. Johnstone filed her application as a private citizen.

In the amicus application, Johnstone argues that the South African legal system is corrupt and inefficient, by using examples that Johnstone collected from the South African press. These include articles on a military judge who claimed that witchcraft made her attempt suicide, the covering up of crime statistics by former Western Cape police commissioner Mzwandile Petros, and a report from the Law Society Of South Africa which stated that a study of law students from the University of Cape Town found that 70% could not complete simple research tasks or use a computer.

Neither Westminster Crown Court nor Dewani’s legal team would comment on the amicus curiae application.

Johnstone herself is unsure if the courts will take her case seriously. “I have no idea [if the courts will take it seriously]. I can’t say. I would hope that they would look at the arguments and if they find any merits they will address them.”

Johnstone is also a writer for the controversial blog, Why We Are White Refugees, which made headlines last year after a white South African man, Brandon Huntley, claimed refugee status in Canada. Johnstone submitted a lengthy petition to the UN High Commission for Refugees on Huntley’s behalf.

Dewani, 31, is fighting extradition to South Africa and did not attend the start of his trial at the Westminster High Court, due to “acute stress disorder”. Julian Knowles, Dewani’s solicitor, told the court that his client had been judged by a psychiatrist to be “suffering acute stress disorder and a depressive adjustment disorder and so is unfit to attend court”.

Questions remain about why Dewani is fighting extradition and not returning to South Africa to face the trial.

The family refutes allegations that he is hiding from justice and evading the legal process. “Ultimately, defeating extradition may not resolve the truth, but the reason he is not consenting to extradition at present is because he is genuinely not fit and well to return to South Africa and has serious concerns over the handling of his case,” a family spokesman told the Evening Post on Monday.

The next hearing takes place on 8 February. Dewani’s legal team recently engaged top Cape Town lawyer Taswell Papier to assist in his defence.

Source:  The South African

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