Pretoria: Lawyers and legal academics in South Africa voiced shock after Oscar Pistorius was cleared of murder charges Thursday, with critics saying judge Thokozile Masipa had been too lenient.
"I`m shocked," said criminal lawyer Martin Hood, after Masipa said the prosecution had not made the case for murder or premeditated murder during the Paralympian`s high-profile trial.
"I think she`s going to get quite a lot of criticism from the judiciary and the legal system," said the Johannesburg-based lawyer.
"The consensus is that she hasn`t got it right."
Pistorius fired four shots into a toilet cubicle killing his model girlfriend on Valentine`s Day last year. He said he had mistaken her for an intruder.
"The consensus among the legal community was that he is guilty of murder," said Hood. "This could really open the door to systematic abuse of our legal system by people who shoot their partners and claim self-defence."
"If someone can shoot in an irresponsible manner, and even in a negligent manner and not be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, then it means that we are not able to use the law as a tool to address violent crime in this country."
Another Johannesburg lawyer David Dadic said he and other legal professionals "are quite stunned by the decision... that the death behind the door, irrespective of who the victim was, was not foreseeable."
The 27-year-old double-amputee could yet be convicted on a lesser charge of culpable homicide, or the negligent killing of Reeva Steenkamp, who was 29.
"I think at the very very least she has to convict him of culpable homicide because Pistorius said it was an accident," said Hood.
"(An) accident resulting in the death of another human being doesn`t make it justifiable, it makes it negligent."
Judge Masipa concluded that "in the circumstances it is clear his conduct is negligent."
But it is unclear what kind of a sentence he could be given, as culpable homicide -- a charge roughly equivalent to manslaughter -- has no prescribed punishment under South African law.
"It all comes down to how she (the judge) feels, how bad the mistake was," said Dadic, adding "obviously such a death was caused by negligence, very serious negligence."
James Grant, Wits University criminal law professor James Grant noted the state could appeal if they believe there has been an legal error.
"Masipa doesn`t accept that accused intended to kill anyone. Huh? His defence was he didn`t intend to UNLAWFULLY kill," he tweeted.
"How can you voluntarily fire four shots into a toilet cubicle & not foresee the possibility of killing whoever was in there."
Lawyers also expect that Pistorius will be convicted of separate charges of gun and ammunition possession, for which he may be jailed, lose his licence or have a fine imposed.
"Again there is no prescriptive thinking, it`s essentially how the judge feels subjectively and objectively, whether the crime is of such a serious nature or not," said Dadic.
"So it`s `how long is a piece of string` really."