A Search for Justice – or just getting your man.

This article is a little different from my usual offerings, but I have felt compelled to write something.

Like the rest of the world, I am not in a position to know what went on that February night in Oscar Pistorius’ bedroom. Indeed, the only person who really knows the truth is the man himself.

In August 2012 Mr. Pistorius, as he is now referred to, was the subject of another blog article I wrote, just after he competed in the London Olympics. He was one of the three disabled people taking their place against able-bodied athletes. Then he was a hero, not just to me, but to many people around the world; a role model and a beacon of hope for so many.

Things have changed – but now, as then, I find myself gripped to the unfolding drama that is his daily life. I do not make any judgement about what he did and why. Nor will I comment about owning and being prepared to use a loaded gun; I do not know what is like living in a crime-ridden city, being really afraid for personal safety. I can only comment on what I am hearing daily; Mr Pistorius in tears; a broken man.Oscar Pistorius

Certainly, I have massive sympathy for the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp; her life violently and abruptly ended that night. I cannot image the pain and suffering they must have gone (and been going) through.

What I can comment on is what seems to be unfolding in the courtroom. This drama is drawing watchers in from around the world, even people who would not previously have heard of Oscar Pistorius. What are they seeing, a man seemingly broken by his own action, being attacked by a professional interrogator? Clearly Gerrie Nell is an accomplished lawyer, insisting on the story being told over and over. In the dock, Mr Pistorius, often in tears, forced into reliving the night that changed his life.

He fully accepts his part in Reeva’s death and is full of regret and remorse. He has apologised to her family and his followers, a heartfelt and truly genuine apology. Either his pain is real and deep or he is the best actor I have ever seen, providing an Oscar-winning performance. I suspect the former.

However, I know not whether he is innocent. I cannot make that judgement, but I have been horrified at the bullying tactics of the prosecution. Is this what any of us would expect if we found ourselves being cross-examined? Facing an adversary with a professional tenacity that refuses to let go. Though I have nothing to do with the case, sometimes he makes me feel guilty too. I cannot imagine what it must be like being attacked face-to-face.

I always believed that judicial systems are designed to get to the truth, not purely get a conviction. In this case, I wonder whether Mr Nell agrees?

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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15 Responses to A Search for Justice – or just getting your man.

  1. SteveM says:

    Having been selected for jury service a few years ago I came to the conclusion that the courts are little to do with truth or justice. I felt I was watching a pantomime designed to support the egos and finance the lifestyles of the legal profession. The whole thing was a pointless ritualistic charade.

  2. pc says:

    Interesting view of the man, but one i disagree with.

    The more recent memory of him before the shooting of Reeva Steencamp was the disappointment of his reaction to being beaten by a better athlete at the Paralympics.

    That gave the first true view of a man who undoubtedly overcame incredible adversity to inspire through athletics, but perhaps demosntrated his moral fibre was a little lacking.

    It wasn’t Pistorius beaten by a better athlete. It was that a man who also wore blades, a slightly different design, legal but different, had used technology in a way that made it impossible for Pistorius to win… and that wasn’t fair (didn’t Pistorius do the same thing himself?)

    A highlighting of a narcissist beneath. The glimpses of his antics with guns deeply unsettles me. His shift from quivering wreck with meek whimpers to argumentatively disputing points that he feels tarnished by whether true or not. His complete lack of recall of anything that he hasn’t already reconstructed but is aware of the implications of. Yet his speed of recall when Nell slipped with a word or bringing up a point already covered.

    And more than anything, how his version of events just makes no sense at all. Confronting the danger, not seeing his gf somehow pass him down the corridor. Seeing the handle not move but shooting. Shooting 4 times, not 1 that may have been an accident, or the whole magazine if he was tortured by fear as he wishes people to perceive.

    So many contradictions in his testimony and truly unbelievable.

    Sadly my belief is that Pistorius is guilty of murder. Whether he’ll be convicted i’m not sure, more likely is the secondary finding of manslaughter with the pure lack of evidence.

    And is OP full of remorse for killing Reeva? Or is he purely tearful at the implications of being n a position where he could face many years in jail for his at least negligent actions?

    • equalityedge says:

      Mr Pistorius is highly emotional and sometime his testimony somewhat confused. Wouldn’t you be, with Mr Nell as an adversary. He is scary and borders on being a bully.

    • Spot on PC. He quipped at the on set of his cross examination that ‘my’ life is in ruin because of this event. That is a narcissists comment. What would you have Nell do exactly Equalityedge? Give Pistorius tea and cake. Gerrie Nell is doing his job and is trying to ascertain whether Pistorius is a murderer or not.

      • equalityedge says:

        Peter, I would not be offering Oscar Pistorius tea and cake. Clearly it is essential that the prosecution do its job the best way possible – but is the aggressive line taken by Mr Nell the best way.

        Justice needs to be achieved for Ms Steenkamp and her family and if Mr Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, it needs to be proven. Does this necessarily involve him being “tied up” in circles by aggressive questioning that makes him appear guilty.

        Peter, as I always say, it is not my place to make any judgement, particularly circumstance such as this where there is a judge employed to do that.

        I guess my concern is that the ‘circus’ that this case has become has allowed people like us to get an insight into what may go on in a courtroom and I find it somewhat scary.

  3. Vernal Scott says:

    Pistorius: First bullet a possible accident. Second bullet a terrible mistake. Third bullet, murder. Fourth bullet, murder with intent. I hope justice will be done, for Reeva and all victims of ‘domestic crime’.

  4. Chris Markiewicz says:

    Michael – This taps into one of my top 5 life fears – being called into court as a defendant or a witness. The former is less likely, whereas you would think that I’d be up for doing my “public duty” were I to be called as a witness. I fear, I would run a mile rather than have to go through the ignominy and downright abuse that is called witness cross examination!

    I’ve not been watching the trial, partly because it would feel invasive on my part and “buying into the pantomime”, and partly because I have plenty enough to upset me already (should I choose to be) without adding this – my system can only handle so much bad news!

    Recent UK legal cases have been littered with stories of witnesses being treated shoddily – The Dowlers, Nigella Lawson et al. I really wonder whether truth and justice are achieved or whether cleverest barrister wins. In that respect, the system stinks and I hope I (eventually) go to my grave never having been through it, in whatever guise..

  5. I have posted similar thoughts on my blog. You are so very right, no one really knows what happened that night, but the man himself. I don’t deny the tragedy, but I somehow can’t stop thinking what if what he says is true? We shouldn’t judge so fast, everyone deserves a second chance and the benefit of the doubt.

  6. Annabel says:

    I have spent most of my adult life in and out of employment tribunals – where part of my job was to prepare my own witnesses for cross examination and to cross examine others. I do realise this is not as pressurised as being on trial for murder – but the fundamental techniques and systems are the same.

    I frequently came across ‘aggressive’ cross examiners who pushed and bullied the witnesses but interesting enough from a technical point of view (which I know is not what we are discussing, but stay with me) the pushy and aggressive cross examination style is rarely as effective a technique for getting at the truth as a more ‘pull,,tell me your story style’.

    Whilst it is necessary to challenge witnesses’ versions of events where there is a difference and where something crucial hangs on that, we have allowed our UK courtrooms to be over taken by this egotistical process.

    Whilst good Judge’s often do intervene when things get way out of hand – they run the risk of giving one side grounds of appeal if their representative is not allowed to ask the questions they want.

    This whole process is being slowly changed by more collaborative lawyers (and others) who seek other ways to discover the truth.

    The Pistorius trial (and the prosecutor) are quite extreme examples of a long and dying tradition that has its origins in trial by combat and a lot of other old school stereotypical masculine behaviour that is up for review.

    We must step forward and change this..

    • equalityedge says:

      Annabel

      Thanks so much for your first-hand insight. I pleased things are changing towards a collaborative style of law. I suspect this will be a more effective process in getting to the truth.

  7. Chris Markiewicz says:

    Annabel – I am encouraged by your comment and that things are changing. I wonder, to what extent the barrister concerned is strutting his stuff/playing to the (global) audience? For this reason, I do feel uneasy around the televising of trials.

  8. Marcia says:

    Unfortunately, the focus is on the alleged offender and we hear nothing about the victim, because she can’t speak for herself. Her mother, family and friends hear and see what resulted from OP’s actions. Owning a gun, having lessons indicates being prepared to use the weapon and take someone’s life. Whether for personal protection or as part of your job that willingness to shoot another is a premeditated decision. I know I couldn’t do it.
    The court system is adversarial and rightly so it’s where the evidence is tested. Prosecution’s job is to prove guilt, let’s see what the defence do when it’s their turn. Taking another human beings life is serious. In my opinion 4 shots, having not ascertained certain basics is excessive.

  9. Having had the experience of being ‘interviewed under caution’ in a corporate capacity by both trading standards and Health and Safety officials, with something riding on the result, I have some small insight into what it feels like (not at all great), and like a earlier correspondent would fear to endure interrogation in a witness box.

    Oscar Pistorius is (like us all) a damaged human being and whatever happened that night only he knows, and I am not sure that he is entirely clear. It is always hard to explain something complicated and particularly your own motivations.

    My degree is in history, and something i have always thought about ‘historical fact’ is that if you think about it, trying to explain why you did something trivial a week ago there are many and varied reasons why you did whatever. The reasons you admit to, those you don’t, those that are conditioned behaviours, the ones you don’t even know about and a myriad of others all for something small.

    Imagine being cross examined about it by a tricky lawyer, trying to make a case.

    In terms of a historical narrative it follows that events from the distant past are difficult to understand and where the event is complicated even more so. The further back and the more vies=ws of he same event there are the less obvious the truth becomes.

    As for Oscar Pistorius, I can sympathise with his position although not with the whole loaded gun thing- as i would anyone put through the ‘justice mill’. We await whatever verdict comes out although, recent developments (his expert discrediting a main plank of the defence case) seem to suggest the trial is not going well for OP.

    I have no direct knowledge of trial practice in either a court or tribunal, but wonder how far the collaborative approach can work where someone has so much to lose and may lie defensively (not intended to be a comment on OP).

    Either way whilst it may make good TV it makes a horrible experience.

    To finish with a rather cynical but nevertheless truish quote:

    “Justice is when you get what you deserve and the law is when you get what you pay for.”

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