A new path to freedom for Derby-Lewis?

2010-05-13 07:02

A challenge to parole legislation heard by the Constitutional Court could raise the hopes of Clive Derby-Lewis, the killer of South African Communist Party (SACP) leader, Chris Hani.

The Concourt is currently considering a convicted murderer’s application for leave to appeal against a North Gauteng High Court’s decision to dismiss his challenge of the validity of parole legislation.

Paul van Vuren has challenged Section 136(3)(a) of the Correctional Services Act, implemented in 1999, which requires life sentence prisoners to serve at least 20 years before being entitled to be considered for parole.

Van Vuren was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in November 1992.

After the Concourt declared the death penalty unconstitutional, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in September 2000 and antedated to the date of Van Vuren’s original conviction.

At the time of his conviction, legislation required prisoners sentenced to life terms to serve at least between 10 to 15 years of their sentence before being considered for parole, considerably less than the 20 years prescribed by Section 136.

Van Vuren told the Concourt last week that Section 136 obliged him to wait longer before being eligible for parole than he would have, had his eligibility been considered in terms of the policies applicable to his antedated life sentence.

He also argued that the section infringed his constitutional rights to equality and dignity, and arbitrarily and unjustly deprived him of his freedom.

The legal teams of the ministers for correctional services and justice argued that the section was constitutionally valid.

Van Vuren’s legal challenge mirrors that of Derby-Lewis (74) who was convicted and sentenced to death for Hani’s murder in 1993.

His sentence was also commuted to a life sentence after the death sentence was abolished.

In 2008, after serving 15 years of his sentence, a parole board ruled that Derby-Lewis was eligible for parole.

But Derby-Lewis was forced to take his wish for freedom to the North Gauteng High Court after public opinion and the objections of the Hani family put paid to his efforts to exit prison via the parole board.

In March last year his application for parole was dismissed by a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court.

The court upheld Section 136, dismissing arguments from Derby-Lewis’s legal team that he was eligible for parole because he was over 65 and had served 15 years of his life sentence.

At the heart of both Derby-Lewis’s and Van Vuren’s court battles, was the same question: Was a prisoner eligible for parole after having spent 15 years behind bars according to the old law, or 20 years according to new legislation?

The North Gauteng High Court upheld Section 136 in both cases.

Derby-Lewis did not appeal his judgement.

Paul van Vuuren, however, approached the Constitutional Court.

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