The Constitutional Court has ruled that parole is part of punishment and rules lengthening parole periods increase the severity of the punishment‚ says a Weekend Post report. The court confirmed an order made by the High Court that Sections 136(1) and 73(6)(b)(iv) of the Correctional Services Act of 1998 were invalid.

The two sections altered the requirements of eligibility for parole. Under section 136(1) of the Act‚ anyone sentenced to life imprisonment before October 2004 would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years of their sentence in prison‚ in accordance with the old parole regime.

However‚ section 73(6)(b)(iv) states that a person sentenced to incarceration for life after October 2004 may not be placed on parole until he or she has served at least 25 years of the sentence.

Oupa Phaahla – serving a life sentence – was convicted in September 2004‚ but sentenced on 5 October that year. This meant that Phaahla was only meant to be eligible for parole after having spent 25 years in prison‚ whereas had he been sentenced a few days earlier‚ he would have been eligible for parole five years earlier.

In the majority judgment on Friday‚ Acting Justice Daniel Dlodlo said imposing the lengthier sentence violated section 35(3)(n) of the Constitution. Justice Edwin Cameron said bringing the new parole regime into effect on any arbitrarily chosen date was incorrect‚ and to tie its application to date of sentence rather than the date of the commission of offence created irrational and absurd disparities between those sentenced before and after the date the new regime came into force. 

A Cape Times report says the court has given Parliament 24 months to amend section 136(1) to allow parole periods for inmates to start from the day of the commission of a crime and not from the date of sentencing.

Full Weekend Post report (subscription needed)

Phaahla v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Another

See also full report in The Star (subscription needed)

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)