Dewani's condition could worsen - lawyer

2013-07-04 20:10
(Dominic Lipinski, AP)

(Dominic Lipinski, AP)

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London - The extradition hearing of honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani was "a very grave case", a London court heard on Thursday.

The British Press Association reported that Dewani's counsel Claire Montgomerie QC told the Westminster Magistrate's Court her client's condition could deteriorate after extradition. This was a risk that had to be taken into account.

She told the judge "there is no other case" he would have had to deal with involving someone who had been detained for more than two years under the Mental Health Act.

"If he cannot get fit here after two-and-a-half years, one has to recognise, given the severity of his condition, that he may never get fit."

Arguing for a six-month adjournment to see if his condition would improve while being treated in Britain, she said: "There is no logic or sense in returning him at this delicate stage."

Deterioration is "not a risk, it will happen", Montgomerie said.

The 33-year-old businessman, who has depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is accused of orchestrating the death of wife Anni, 28.

She was shot as the newlywed couple travelled in a taxi on the outskirts of Cape Town in November 2010. Dewani denies any involvement.

Dewani's lawyers have previously claimed he would be a high suicide risk if extradited, and his human rights could be violated due to the risk of being attacked and sexually assaulted in a South African prison, and of potentially contracting HIV.

Ordered to return

Dewani was ordered to return to South Africa in 2011, but this was successfully appealed against and judges ordered that Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle look at the case again.

Montgomerie said what was different from previous hearings was that medical experts agreed Dewani was "never likely to make a full recovery" from either of his now chronic disorders.

Dewani's PTSD was severe, his depressive illness was moderate to severe, and his current risk of self-harm was real and significant, but not immediate.

He has received treatment for his mental condition since his wife's death, most recently at two units near Bristol.

Hugo Keith QC, for the South African government, argued it would not be oppressive to extradite Dewani, suggesting it was now a "different ball game" in terms of his diagnosis, ability to concentrate, suicide risk and overall progress.

He told the court that "unprecedented" undertakings had been taken to ensure Dewani would get a high standard of care for his mental health.

This included a pledge that Dewani would be admitted to a general ward at Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, rather than a unit where people were sent by the courts.

Psychiatrist Dr Ian Cumming had visited South Africa and was confident the standard of Dewani's ongoing medical treatment would be "robust" and would not drop once he left Britain.

Extradition could be stressful

It seemed clear that extradition and the legal process would be stressful on Dewani, but Keith pointed towards medical advice that claimed there would be a temporary dip in Dewani's condition.

This could be managed through medication and the services on offer in South Africa and Dewani would get better in time, he said.

"Given that the services in Valkenberg are good, if not excellent, given that the spike can be managed, then there is simply no point in waiting," Keith argued.

To wait, possibly around six months as suggested by the defence, would mean that Dewani and the legal progress would be in no different position than at the start of this year, he said.

Keith said Dewani was "undoubtedly" not in a position to plead to criminal charges now, but the situation could change.

Dewani tried to take an overdose in 2011, but since then he had not spoken directly about self-harm or suicide.

Cumming said Dewani's attitude towards suicide was that "he would not be bothered if he was dead", rather than saying he would kill himself.

He explained that Dewani was "evasive" about these questions, but he did not seem to have active plans on the matter.

Keith claimed Dewani's ability to concentrate had improved, although he was still in the grip of PTSD.

The frequency of suicide in his thoughts had lessened.

The case is next set for a July 24 hearing at the same court.

Dewani has been excused attendance.

- SAPA

Read more on:    anni dewani  |  shrien dewani  |  cape town  |  uk  |  honeymoon hijacking
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