On the second day of the trial, set to last three weeks, the heavy and cold rain over Pretoria’s Gauteng North High Court, didn’t stop the army of journalists from tussling for a glimpse of the accused outside the court.
The 27-year-old Paralympic athlete was charged with the murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s day last year. He is out on R1 million ($93,000) bail.
In the tangle of stepladders and tripods there was shoving and anger. Even passing school children and shop workers pushed into the fray.
This is the media frenzy and fuss around Pistorius’ trial. Bernard Hotz, the director and head of the business crimes and forensics practice at Werksmans Attorneys, is one lawyer uncomfortable with it.
“Remember, the person who is on trial here is Oscar Pistorius not the judiciary system. I personally feel that it is problematic for the media to be involved in the way they are. In terms of the bill of rights, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” says Hotz.
The attorney adds that there’s too much speculation and analysis happening after each word uttered by witnesses, that could hamper the work of the courts.
“If you walk in the street and ask anybody ‘so did he do it or didn’t he do it?’ Most of the people may say he did it, he should go to jail. Whether or not that is right, it can only be decided upon by the judge after hearing all the evidence and applying law,” says Hotz.
But Hotz says he believes the presiding judge, Thokozile Masipa, is strong enough to control the trial.
Masipa, who was once a crime reporter, was stern in court. She warned journalists that if they don’t behave they won’t be treated with soft gloves. This follows the publishing of a picture of a witness, transgressing the conditions of the court.
“You’re dealing with human psychology, if you watch the television, everybody in the court is playing to the audience. That for me runs contrary to our court system in South Africa, bearing in mind we don’t have a jury system here, it’s about presenting evidence to the judge who must decide the case based on the evidence and the law,” says Hotz.
Guilty or innocent, Pistorius will dig deep for this trial.
“Quiet easily, the total cost of the trial, including the year’s preparations, could be anywhere between R6 million ($559,000) and R8 million ($745,000),” says Hotz.
Hotz, senior litigation attorney with 21 years of law experience, says his hourly rate is R3,750 ($350) and R37,500 ($3,500) per day.
“If you take me as an attorney, with my team dealing with a complex civil litigation matter, the cost would be in the same region. Unfortunately, the cost of litigation, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, is exceptionally expensive.”
Pistorius can negotiate a package deal of R100,000 ($9,300) a day for the three weeks of the trial. He could end up paying his legal team up to R2 million ($186,000) over this time.
The price of justice appears to come at a premium.