Secret illness

2009-03-07 00:00

CURRENTLY, only the Minister of Correctional Services and the National Police Commissioner have the power to refer decisions on medical parole for review, and while Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour could have sent Schabir Shaik’s parole application to the inspecting judge of prisons for an opinion, he did not do so. Could Shaik’s sudden release be related to the forthcoming change to the Correctional Services Act, which will permit the inspecting judge, too, to refer medical parole decisions for review?

Perhaps — but unless further information regarding the grounds for his release is made available there’s no way of answering the question conclusively. And Justice Minister Enver Surty’s comments on the subject make it clear that such details won’t be forthcoming: he insists that the public’s right to know the specific grounds for medical parole must be balanced against an individual’s right to privacy.

One might accept this pious sentiment, were it not that, first, every convicted criminal automatically forfeits many basic human rights, including the right to privacy, and, second, the public needs to know that “medical grounds” really does mean the released prisoner will never again be fit enough to be a danger to society. Vague references to “medical expertise”, etc., neither convince nor reassure.

So the Shaik parole continues to ask more questions than it answers. Who watches the custodians, the upper political and police echelons taking such decisions? Who sees to it that the reasons are genuine and that political cynicism or financial manipulation aren’t involved?

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