10 June 2024


International Cases

Director of Public Prosecutions, Kwazulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg vs. Ndlovu

South Africa

14.03.2024

Criminal

Imposition of a life sentence is not to be departed from ‘lightly and for flimsy reasons which could not withstand scrutiny’

The order of the high court was substituted with an order dismissing the appeal against the sentence imposed by the regional court, and reinstated the sentence of life imprisonment that the regional court had imposed as a court of first instance. The appeal revolved around the imposition of a life sentence for the brutal rape of a young woman. Upon appeal to the high court, the court dismissed the appeal against convictions but upheld the appeal against the sentence of life imprisonment.

High court concluded that, it was bound by this Court's decision in S vs. Mahlase in which it was held that Section 51(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997 finds no application in circumstances where the rape victim was raped by two or more persons, if not all of the co-perpetrators are before the trial court and have not been convicted of rape.

The appeal hinged on the wording of Section 51 at the relevant time and examined the matter from this perspective (the 1997 Act had been amended in the meantime). This Court emphasised the importance of statutory interpretation and the correct approach to interpretation of legislation by considering the language used in the provision in light of the overall scheme of the legislation and its context. This Court considered Section 51 in light of the prevailing South African context, namely one where the scourge of rape and sexual violence showed no signs of abating, as well as in light of the values enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic.

The manner in which Section 51 was couched was clear: it provided that a sentence for life imprisonment was to be imposed for certain specified offences and that the imposition of a life sentence was not to be departed from ‘lightly and for flimsy reasons which could not withstand scrutiny’. This Court, after having carefully and thoroughly analysed Mahlase, found that it could not withstand scrutiny and concluded that the judgment and its reasoning was clearly wrong.

Rape is an utterly despicable, selfish, deplorable, heinous and horrendous crime. It gains nothing for the perpetrator, save perhaps fleeting gratification, but inflicts lasting emotional trauma and, often, physical scars on the victim. Supreme Court upheld the appeal and substituted the order of the high court with one dismissing the appeal also against the sentence imposed by the regional court and reinstating the sentence of life imprisonment.

Tags : Life imprisonment Imposition Legality

Share :