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Of Shrien Dewani, Pyschology and Justice

04 December 2012, 13:14

The Shrien Dewani case calls for honesty from the psychology/psychiatry and the legal professions.

The the first point that the P-P profession needs to admit and place before the court is that not all P-P conditions that affect health are in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM) whether the 4th version or the upcoming 5th edition. They can add in that the DSM is merely a reflection of currently mores and that the Shrien Dewani case might well lead to a revision the protocols of foresic psychology and the weight a judicial officer gives to it.

The second thing that the P-P profession needs to admit is that there is not only one treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

In Shrien's case they also need to admit that they are making their assessment on the basis of his self-reports and not on an objectively determined set of facts. They need to tell the Magistrate what difference it makes if he is not telling them the truth and that he in fact organised the hit and never had a gun pointed to his head. They need to say that they cannot make a complete assessment.

The legal profession needs to admit that often enough its defence-practitioners do things that are more in the interests of their clients and less in the interests of justice or of the truth of the matter.

If this evidence is brought forward, the Magistrate can make a decision not only in the interests of Shrien, the husk, but in the interests of the Justice the Magistrate is meant to serve.

Conditions not in the DSM

There are two that I can think of that are relevant in to Shrien. One is called having a “guilty conscience” the other is called, I know it will sound a bit funny, pre-traumatic stress syndrome.

A guilty conscience can ravage a person's health and behaviour. This should be common enough knowledge not to need to prove it here.

Pre-traumatic stress is what so many young people feel before writing an exam on which much of their future and their parents investment hinges. They get sick.

It occurs in other contexts as well – I imagine a death row prisoner being marched to the gallows could feel the same. The queues for the portable toilets at the start of the Comrades Marathon show that it also occurs among runners who face a 90 km examination of their egos.

In Shiren's case the prospects of disproving the evidence against him and of being cross-examined are good enough reason for him to be pre-traumatically stressed and to have cured any hint of constipation.

Alternative treatments

We don't know how Shrien is being treated for his condition. But facing up to the consequences of one's actions is a cure for his condition.

If he is found not guilty, you will see an immediate change in his condition without medication or 20000 volts or whatever the P-P profession uses nowadays.

If he is found guilty, then the cure will be much slower because he will have to face the prospect of admitting what he did. But the good thing is that once he has served a few months in jail, his current the treatment for post-traumatic stress will have a much better chance of working.

Alarming alacrity

Two more pieces of evidence the Magistrate should consider when  deciding, in the interests of justice, about the competency of Shrien to stand trial:

  • Shrien's alarming alacrity in leaving South Africa after his wife was murdered. It could easily and obviously be that he was running away from his deeds. Another person, especially one with the resources to hire a publicist, might have been to hire a competent private detective to find the person or persons who did it - or at least to stay and offer whatever help the police might have needed

  • he only got ill when faced with the prospects of standing trial. The more likely he was to go on trial, the more ill he got.

    I know these are speculation but they should be weighed together with the speculative evidence of the psychiatrists.

Justice

Innocent until proved guilty doesn't mean the perpetrator didn't do it until found guilty. "Schroedinger's cat" doesn't apply here. It only says proper proof before sanctioning.

In Shrien's case, the cause of justice would be best served if:

  • Shrien is released from the psychiatric hospital

  • allowed to go where he wants for 4 months (I would suggest a surfing and pampering holiday in Hawaii), allow him to go to what ever nightclub he wants and watch or take part in whatever activity turns him on (don't offer him sushi, which is what he bought his wife just before she got murdered it might make him ill again)

  • but tell him that he should use the time to prepare his defence

  • and then send him to South Africa to face the trial that will definitely cure whatever he is suffering from.

Doing this will relieve the suffering this miscarriage of justice creates in me and I am sure in a few other people as well.

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