This is the first and last thing I will say about Oscar or the crime or his sentence or about people who talk about him or his crime or sentence. But I do feel compelled to add my bit. Why? Because I can and because I feel strongly about this.
Here’s the thing. Since the world of law has moved from the courtroom into the lounge/TV/canteen/laptop/anywhere else, the entire world has become a legal expert. Everyone feels inclined to want to comment on whether the accused is an evil, cold-blooded killer or a compromised person who suffers from certain anxieties or whether the legal team should have put up certain evidence ( or used certain expert witnesses) or whether the court has missed a vital piece of evidence or misconstrued the law or anything to do with the trial which has become a topic of conversation everywhere. And I think it’s marvelous that the public is now better informed about how a trial works and who starts with examination in chief first and how aggressive cross -examination can sometimes appear to be and the whole course of criminal procedure. In my own mind, I am still not sure whether the exposure to the media is advantageous or hinders the proper and natural conduct of counsel in arguing a particular matter. But what I do know is that the fact that people have now seen and heard how (criminal) law works in practice gives them a skewed perspective of their own ability to make an objective judgment or have an opinion that is properly informed or valuable or even logical, let alone whether the law is fair and just.
Now, don’t get me wrong because EVERYONE is entitled to their opinion because it is a fundamental right enshrined in our wonderful Constitution and it creates debate and awareness and challenges ideas that perhaps need to be overhauled but somehow, in all of this, there seems to be a flaw where opinions are concerned because what is the value of an opinion if is an uninformed opinion? And I say this with the greatest respect because it’s easy to offer an opinion but it is of little value when it has no legitimate basis. And yet we are all quick to comment and offer our view when our view is only predicated upon a gut feel or a subjective stance or a limited understanding.
So when I hear a seemingly authoritative and unfettered comment on whether justice has been served or not in regard to our double-amputee ,Olympic athlete, and whether it can’t be right that someone only gets 5 years for killing an innocent girl, or that he has suffered enough and should only get correctional supervision I want to explain what I am explaining here, and that is this:
Law is a complex business and an intense discipline which requires years of study and an understanding of many, many legal principles and thought processes and vastly varied scenarios and a thorough examination of thousands of cases and millions of provisions in various pieces of legislation that have been dealt with in our courts by persons who have also spent years studying cases and contemplating how to solve a legal problem: how to restore the balance in society when someone has suffered harm and how best to compensate the injured party or punish the person who caused it and to ensure that the interests of society are best served.
And so how to make it fair and indeed, what is fairness and does it equate to justice? As a young, ambitious, naïve student, I wanted it all to be fair and I wanted the law to make it all fair but somewhere along the line, one becomes abit disillusioned sometimes. I try not to be too much of a cynic about it all when I try to impart to my students some of what I learnt of this wonderful world of rational though and considered logic because I could do that sometimes too. And , no doubt sometimes I do.
But what I wanted to say is that most of the comments that people make about the law ( and let me be specific here, on Oscar) are not fair. They are not fair because fairness is a consideration that can only happen when one is able to objectively come to a conclusion based upon a thorough assessment of all the particular facts of a matter with a thorough knowledge of how the law applies to these particular facts.
And the truth is that very few can really say they know all the facts unless they have heard EVERY bit of evidence ( or read every word of the judgment if they missed some of this during the trial and even then, that may not be entirely accurate) and even fewer can really comment much on the law unless they have studied the law or practised law in any way.
So yes, have an opinion but be hard on your opinion and ask whether., in all honesty your opinion is fair.