For the first time in South Africa, a court has granted a gay organisation the right to give evidence in the sentencing phase of a hate crime trial.

On Friday, the Germiston Magistrates’ Court approved an application by OUT, the Pretoria-based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) health and well-being group, to be granted amicus curiae (or, ‘friend of the court’) status.

This allows OUT to lead evidence in the sentencing of three men who were recently found guilty of brutally beating a young, black, gay man in a bar in October 2007. The victim was punched, struck with wooden chairs and hit on the head with a metal spanner.

“I am overjoyed by this. I am overwhelmed that we got such a just result,” said Kerry Williams from Webber Wentzel Attorneys, which is representing OUT in the case. “We have monitored this case for almost four years, over 30 or 40 postponements,” she noted.

According to OUT, the attack on the gay man had all the markings of a hate-crime. It said that the victim was targeted as a result of his sexual orientation and that the assault was preceded and accompanied by homophobic speech”.

On Friday, following the approval of the amicus curiae application, OUT’s legal team began leading evidence by Professor Juan Nel, a senior psychology lecturer at UNISA, on the nature of hate crimes and their impact on victims.

According to Nel, victims of violent hate crime suffer from higher levels of psychological distress and there is the potential for development of internalised homophobia or homo-prejudice.

Nel provided further evidence on the impact of such hate-based victimisation on the victim’s family and the LGBT community, as well as on society at large.

Williams believes that the success of the amicus curiae application is an important legal development in the fight against the epidemic of hate crimes in South Africa.

“Organisations have been trying to do this for 10 years – to give proper evidence on the pernicious impact of hate crimes on the lesbian and gay community. It is important because it allows society and gay and lesbian organisations that have relevant experts to, in the future, apply to intervene as a friend of the court,” she said.

The trial has been postponed till 27 January and two more witnesses will present evidence to the court on hate crimes on behalf of OUT.

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