Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Sentencing Pistorius to five years in jail is a fair judgement for both Pistorius and the Steenkamps

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The Independent Online

Judge Thokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail Oscar Pistorius for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. It's likely anything else would have seen outrage – riots, even – at home in South Africa, as well as uproar around the world.

As it is, a five-year sentence feels like the perfect verdict, even if, as seems the case, a hefty proportion of it will be spent under house arrest. Public opinion, even that which is expressed violently, should have no weight when it comes to judges’ verdicts. All that matters is the case in hand. But if any verdict could help heal the wounds inflicted by such a senseless killing, this one just might.

A non-custodial sentence would have sent the wrong message – that if you’re famous enough, and weep and retch enough in court, you can get away with manslaughter. A long jail sentence, on the other hand, would have felt like grandstanding, banging up Oscar and throwing away the key to demonstrate that fame does not confer immunity from the law.

It also wouldn’t have accommodated a fundamental principle. Justice, Judge Masipa said, should be merciful, with a full appreciation of human frailties, and her stern compassion towards Pistorius was exemplary.

Her performance throughout the trial, sometimes seemingly plodding, has in fact been reassuringly painstaking. Her delivery today was typically thorough, chronicling two similar cases in great detail but ending up making a decision that was hers and hers alone. I must confess I had doubts that a system of justice that has no place for juries could deliver a truly fair result, but Judge Masipa has done so.

 

True mercy has nothing to do with weakness or maudlin sympathy, but is one of the elements of justice. As she put it, any verdict must balance retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation, and it seems to me that five years in jail strikes exactly that balance.

There’s deterrence: I’m not sure there’s much danger of Pistorius giving a repeat performance, and other gun-crazy South Africans may think twice before pulling the trigger. There’s retribution: his top-level athletics career is surely all but over, sabotaged by his own homicidal recklessness. But there’s also the possibility of rehabilitation –he’ll be able to pick up the pieces of the rest of his life and work out how he can best repay a society that has served him well. For the Steenkamps the verdict has helped bring closure – they said they were happy with it. For Oscar Pistorius, life can also go on. In the end, Judge Masipa has delivered a judgment of Solomon.

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