SOUTH AFRICA. CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO DECIDE ON DEATH ROW PRISONERS
March 10, 2005: sixty-two prisoners were still under sentence of death although the death penalty was declared invalid in South Africa 10 years ago, the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg heard.
"There are 62 persons whose position is still under some cloud," said advocate Vas Soni, appearing on behalf of the state.
The state was defending an application brought by four prisoners on death row arguing they should receive a fresh trial and new sentence.
The 62 death row prisoners fell into two categories, Soni said, those with and those without court records.
The Department of Justice expected to complete by the end of June the process of commuting the sentences of those with records to life in prison.
The second category was more problematic as these prisoners had no records. "The department is agonising on how to take the process forward," said Soni.
One suggestion was to seek guidance from the court, he said.
The death penalty was declared unconstitutional in June 1995, when the Constitutional Court found it violated the right to life and was cruel, inhuman and degrading.
As a result of that judgment, legislation was passed to provide for the procedure to be followed in setting aside the death penalty and substituting it with a more appropriate sentence.
Justice Zak Yacoob said that in 1995 a certain number of people were identified as having death sentences. "If the judgement was taken seriously at all, then something should have been done at that point," he said. According to the South African Human Rights Commission, 430 people were facing the death sentence when it was abolished in 1995. (Sources: SAPA, 10/03/2005)