March 28, 2013 3:03 pm

Judge says Pistorius can compete abroad

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PRETORIA – Oscar Pistorius can leave South Africa to compete in international track events, a judge ruled on Thursday as he upheld the Olympic athlete’s appeal against some of his bail restrictions.

Judge Bert Bam said Mr Pistorius, who is charged with murder in the Valentine’s day fatal shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, must travel under certain conditions. His passport will be held by a court while he is in South Africa and he can only leave the country if he provides an itinerary of his travel plans at least a week before he is due to leave. Mr Pistorius must also hand his travel documents back to the court within 24 hours of returning home.

The ruling in a North Gauteng high court opens the way for the Paralympic champion, who is facing a life sentence if found guilty of murder, to run in international competitions again.

Mr Pistorius’ agent, Peet van Zyl, told the AP soon after the ruling that his client could even run at the world championships in Moscow in August if he wanted to and if he qualified. “Based on this [judge’s decision], and if he is up for it and qualifies, the world championships will definitely be on the radar,” Mr van Zyl said.

The judge’s decision was “fair”, he added, but any return to competition would be up to Mr Pistorius, who has not run competitively since September or trained for two months.

Although the athlete’s lawyers said in the appeal hearing that he had no immediate plans to compete, he would probably need to return to the track to earn money, they said. Mr Pistorius himself, a double amputee widely known as the Blade Runner for his prosthetic legs, did not attend the court session.

“He has no desire to compete now but it might change and it will change,” defence lawyer Barry Roux told the judge in arguing for some of the bail restrictions to be eased. Mr Roux said Mr Pistorius would not try to evade trial if he was allowed to travel internationally and would eventually need to run again “to earn an income”.

Mr Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp accidentally when he fired shots through a door in his bathroom in the pre-dawn hours, fearing there was an intruder in his house. Prosecutors say he shot the model and reality TV star intentionally after they argued and they have charged him with premeditated murder.

In court on Thursday, the judge also ruled in favour of Mr Pistorius on three other conditions. He no longer has to be regularly supervised by a probation official and a ruling that he was not allowed to consume alcohol and could be tested at any time for alcohol and “prohibited substances” was lifted.

Judge Bam also criticised one of the bail conditions imposed by another judge, saying that a condition that he would be in breach of his bail if he was accused of another crime against women was “fraud”. It went against Mr Pistorius’ constitutional right to be innocent until proven guilty, and being accused of a crime should not count against him, Judge Bam said.

The high court judge’s rapid ruling came three hours after the hearing began.

Another two restrictions – that Mr Pistorius was not allowed to return to his house where he shot Steenkamp dead on February 14, and had to report regularly to a police station – should be disregarded, the judge said.

It meant Mr Pistorius’ legal team succeeded in all its appeals. His lawyers smiled after the judge ruled in their favour.

The prosecution wouldn’t comment on how the ruling affected its case but said it believed Mr Pistorius would comply with the new conditions.

Mr Pistorius’ bail appeal was being heard a day after the athlete’s older brother, Carl Pistorius, went on trial for culpable homicide for the death of a woman motorcyclist in a 2008 road accident. Carl Pistorius pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the main charge of culpable homicide and not guilty to two alternative charges relating to driving recklessly and inconsiderately.

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