Providing pro bono support to women and men against child abuse

murder
16 May 2022

Our Litigation team oppose the parole application of convicted murderer

Peter Van Niekerk, Senior Partner and Head of our South Africa Litigation team, and Kristy Bassingthwaighte, Associate, were recently appointed by not-for-profit organisation, Women and Men against Child Abuse (WMACA), to oppose the parole application of convicted murderer, Donovan Moodley.

WMACA is a not-for-profit Child Protection Organisation committed to fighting for the rights of child abuse victims in South Africa. Our South African Litigation team handles all of WMACA’s internal and external litigation matters on a pro bono basis, whilst also making monthly donations to support its initiatives and operational interests.

Donovan Moodley was sentenced to life imprisonment following the abduction and murder of 21-year-old Leigh Matthews, who was walking through the parking lot of Bond University at the time of the incident. Her disappearance is one of the most high-profile murder cases in South African history, which catalysed global conversations around the topic of gender-based violence and the country’s increasing murder rate. Having only served 17 years of his life sentence (25 years under South African law), a recent Constitutional Court judgement changed the rights to parole for offenders serving a life sentence. Upon hearing this news, Moodley began preparing his application for parole.

WMACA have been supporting the victim’s family, and Peter, who has worked with WMACA as a Director for three years and was previously a director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children for over 20 years, was enlisted by WMACA to oppose Moodley’s parole application. While cases of this kind are rare and unconventional to the team’s roster of litigation matters, Peter and Kristy felt compelled to support the parents of Leigh Matthews, and the wider interests of the South African public who felt strongly about her murder.

Peter and Kristy acted as the legal advisors to the parents of Leigh Matthews, Rob and Sharon Matthews, which involved preparing legal representations to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and appearing before the parole board to present such representations. The representations made reference to many pressing issues, including the nation’s growing femicide crisis and women’s rights.

On 21 January this year, and after an intense nine-hour hearing, the parole board concluded with the recommendation to the Minister that “It would be an insult to justice for murderer Donovan Moodley to be released on parole”. A large media contingent had gathered outside the Johannesburg Medium B Correctional Services Centre to hear the outcome, and Peter and Kirsty supported the Matthews as they spoke to the press.

Peter commented on the case:

“I’m grateful to have once again worked with long-time partner WMACA as they seek to challenge injustice and affect change for those who need it most in our society. The story of Leigh’s horrific murder has left a lasting imprint on our community, and I’m hopeful that the outcome of this hearing will influence a favourable ruling from the Minister, to not only see justice for Leigh’s family, but in the interest of the public and similar cases in the future.”

“It’s been extraordinary to be a part of this crucial application, and Kristy and I remain committed to supporting WMACA and the Matthews family in keeping this dangerous individual off the streets.”

Kristy stresses the importance of pro bono in South Africa:

“Legal costs in South Africa are very expensive, and it is usually only corporates that can afford to litigate. When you look at the economic situation of many South Africans, most are at a considerable disadvantage in that they are unable to afford legal representation.”

“For this reason, it’s so important that we use our legal knowledge and resources to carry out pro bono work in advocacy litigation. I’ve gained invaluable experience from the process, and the greatest part is that we can use one case to affect change in people’s lives by setting a precedent that can be applied to a range of other people, and ultimately raise awareness of victims’ rights.”

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Peter van Niekerk

Peter van Niekerk is the Managing Partner and head of Eversheds Sutherland's litigation department. He specialises in commercial litigation, insurance, construction, and employment law. Peter has served as an Assessor... Read more about Peter van Niekerk

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