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Questions asked about Oscar trial judge|South Africa News

Johannesburg - During the first week of
Oscar Pistorius's murder trial the judge
presiding over the case has come under
fire for giving defence lawyers too much
leeway and not protecting witnesses.
With the trial broadcast live on television,
presiding Judge Thokozile Masipa has not
escaped the scrutiny of millions watching
around the world.
Criticism has centred on Masipa permitting
a fierce line of questioning from Barry
Roux, Pistorius's defence lawyer known
for his hectoring style of cross-
He has reduced two female witnesses to
tears and even read one witness's cell
phone number out in court, although he
later apologised.
Major South African newspapers have run
articles questioning if witnesses are now
less likely to come forward, for fear they
may face a Roux-like buzz saw.
But his badgering is par for the course,
according to some of South Africa's legal
"So far I have not noticed any impropriety
from the side of the judge," said Mary Nel,
a senior criminal law lecturer at the
University of Stellenbosch.
"Cross examination is a robust court
process, it can get really aggressive."
It is crucial, according to Nel, that the
judge does not appear to be taking sides
by being too protective of the state
"The playing field must be level."
"What we have seen so far is the cross
examining of the state witnesses by the
defence, the same will happen when the
state gets to the defence witnesses," she
said adding that she expects the same kind
of robustness.
Roux criticised
Some have criticised Roux for asking
witnesses questions seemingly unrelated
to testimony or beyond the witness's
But according to Nel, sometimes "the
pieces of the puzzle will be revealed at a
later stage".
Masipa has occasionally stepped in, but
some believe she should have intervened
more often.
Thea Illsley, a procedural law expert at the
University of Pretoria said that the judge
had at times been "decidedly leniently"
with Roux.
"The judge is giving Roux leeway to paint
a bigger picture of the events, to set a
background and context... that is
understandable," she said
"Some of the questions seem to be
beyond the witnesses knowledge."
"The judge has been allowing him to ask
questions which may be eventually
For now, most are willing to give Masipa,
66, the benefit of the doubt.
She was appointed a judge in 1998, only
the second black woman to be admitted
to the bench at the time.
Masipa studied law in her 40s. Before that
she was a crime journalist and also was a
social worker.
In a decade-and-a-half on the bench, she
has presided over criminal cases involving
rape and murder, and has spoken out
strongly about violence against women.
She handed down a 252-year prison
sentence to a serial rapist last year, and
has been outspoken against the
government's rights and responsibilities
towards ordinary South Africans.
But none of these cases saw the glare of a
trial televised around the world.

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Posted By kellychi On 03:01 Sat, 08 Mar 2014

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