South Africa

South Africa: UK wants SA to extradite ex-teacher accused of indecently assaulting boys from the 1970s to 1990s

‘South Africans will continue to feel that the state of justice is poor because of the state of our court buildings,’ says Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp)

British authorities want a former schoolteacher, who is in South Africa, to be extradited to face a swathe of sexual offence charges stretching from the 1970s to the 1990s. The ex-teacher, has countered that he was probably in this country when some of the alleged crimes occurred and is using Brexit as a tool against potential extradition.

A matter playing out in the Cape Town magistrate’s court has seen the issues of jurisdiction, time-lapses and even Brexit become focal points as a former teacher tries to sidestep a request by the UK to have him sent back there.

The case is against David Price, who used to be a schoolteacher in the UK, and who in court papers has labelled the charges against him as “vague and embarrassing”. The extradition matter was partially heard in the Cape Town court this week and is expected to resume next month.

According to an application for extradition document, the British government delivered a request for Price’s extradition to South Africa on 22 November 2018.

Price was subsequently arrested on a warrant nearly a year later on 12 November 2019. At some point afterwards, he was released on bail.

The Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the applicant in the extradition matter and is pushing for the court to “issue an order committing Price to prison to await the decision of the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development with regard to his surrender to the United Kingdom”.

If this happens, Price can launch an appeal at the Western Cape high court within 15 days.

However, Price has contended that the DPP “has not made out a case for the extradition” and that the allegations of the UK prosecutor “are so broad, vague and embarrassing,” that these did not allow for him to show that the prosecutor did not have sufficient evidence on which to base the extradition application.

He does not believe the DPP has made a case to prove he should be extradited, and he wants the extradition application dismissed.

The offences Price is accused of were allegedly committed within the UK and do not relate to activities in South Africa.

“Price is charged with 42 sexual offences of indecent assault against children and indecency with a child,” the application for extradition said.

“Charges one to 33 relate to male pupils who attended Ashdown House School in East Sussex during the 1970s and 1980s when Price was employed as a teacher by the school. Charges 34 to 42 relate to male pupils who attended Brockhurst School in Berkshire during the 1980s and 1990s when similarly, Price was employed as a teacher by that school.”

The extradition application said, “both schools were boys-only preparatory schools where attendance was generally for boys between the ages of seven and 13 years.”

Ashdown House School, reportedly once attended by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced last year that it was closing as a result of Covid-19 related issues.

It was previously reported that a former head of the school had in 2014 been questioned over sexual abuse suspicions and that in January that year the Cothill Educational Trust, which owned the school, said in a statement that it may face legal action over abuse allegations dating back 40 years. 

This appears to be unrelated to the Price matter.

The UK request to extradite Price from South Africa was made in terms of the European Convention on Extradition (ECA).

However, Price submitted that it was common cause that the UK ceased being a member of the European Union on 31 January 2020 — in what is known as Brexit.

“It is respectfully submitted that the Applicant has failed to prove that the United Kingdom is still a party to the ECA,” Price’s submission said.

But the DPP felt that Price was off the mark.

“Price has indicated that he intends to challenge the existence of an extradition agreement due to Brexit and the fact that the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union,” its application for extradition said.

“This challenge confuses the European Union with the Council of Europe.”

The DPP said that before a person could be found liable to being surrendered to another country, two criteria had to be met.

These were that the person needed to be liable to be extradited and there needed to be sufficient evidence by the requesting state to warrant a prosecution.

The application for extradition listed the names of 10 individuals who were allegedly sexually assaulted on various dates from as early as 17 January 1970 to 1 September 1990, while they were all under the age of 16 years.

It said, “the offences with which Price is charged… are punishable under the laws of the United Kingdom”. These offences, it said, fell under that country’s Sexual Offences Act of 1956 and the Indecency with Children Act 1960.

Some of the offences Price faced were also, according to the application for extradition, criminal in this country and equated to “the crime of sexual assault in South Africa”.

The issue of time having elapsed since the alleged offences occurred was also dealt with in depth, with the DPP being of the opinion that despite decades having gone by, the alleged offences could still be legally acted on.

It said a section of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act “lists rape as one of the offences excluded from the 20-year prescription period normally set for common law offences. Rape can therefore not prescribe.

“Since 27 April 1994 all other sexual offences, i.e. those not involving rape and compelled rape, also don’t prescribe.”

The application for extradition referred to another case, the effect of which was that “sexual offences, other than rape and compelled rape, committed after 27 April 1974 cannot prescribe.”

“It is therefore submitted that Price should be found liable for extradition on all the counts,” the state’s extradition application said.

“The magistrate should then impose a condition that he not be prosecuted for, or convicted of, any crimes committed before 27 of April 1974. This condition should then also be contained in the magistrate’s report for attention of the minister so that he may obtain the requisite diplomatic guarantee in that regard before surrender of Price occurs.”

But Price’s submission said the alleged offences he was accused of had happened “at any time within a span of three to seven years, all of them over 30 years ago and the majority more than 40 years ago.”

“The allegations are so broad that it is not possible, and in fact embarrassing, to demonstrate that the offences are prescribed (when they clearly may have), or to raise the absolute defences on the merits,” his submission said.

“[He] is not charged with rape, so this… is itself not relevant.”

Price’s submission also showed how he probably planned to counter the charges against him:

“The prosecutor has not sought to justify the vague and embarrassing time periods that are relied on in the charges. Alleging that an offence was committed on some day in a three or seven-year period cannot be described as anything but vague and embarrassing.

“A court in South Africa faced with these facts together with the fact that Mr Price in his defence will raise an alibi defence (he was in South Africa for long periods during the up to 27 years he is alleged to have committed the offences in the UK and has incontrovertible proof thereof) would find, it is submitted, that the charges are vague and embarrassing and disallow them”. DM

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