Transforming the Law on Psychiatric Lesions
Author: Emile Zitzke
Affiliations: LLB LLD, Senior Lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 2, 2021, p. 253 – 271
In this article, I trace the development in the law of delict of recognising general damages claims on account of psychiatric lesions with the aim of making suggestions on how to transform it. Using the tragic case of Michael Komape as a springboard for the discussion, I argue that even though the Supreme Court of Appeal has recently brought clarity on the law on psychiatric lesions, more transformative work still needs to be done. More specifically, this article contends that the constitutional right to bodily and psychological integrity might require us to rethink the high evidentiary threshold that courts have set for proving the element of harm in cases related to psychiatric lesions. I argue that this can be done in at least three ways: First, by very cautiously bringing about a development that would involve protecting victims of psychological harm whose expert witnesses are shown to be inadequate despite all other facts indicating the existence of a psychiatric lesion. Secondly, by lowering the requirement of “recognised psychiatric lesion” to “grievous mental injury”, in line with similar arguments made in England. Thirdly, and most controversially, by acknowledging that perhaps the time has come for our law to recognise claims for so-called “grief in the air”.