. . . cites judiciary measure against COVID-19
MASERU – Acting High Court Judge, Justice Kabelo Lebotse, has declined to postpone the sensational murder trial involving nine soldiers accused of strangling and throwing three men into the Mohale Dam. He cites judiciary measures to combat the COVID-19 threat as the grounds for refusing to postpone the trial.
The judge refused to grant the postponement arguing the judiciary has already put measures to prevent transmission of the virus within the court premises. He said the measures were put following government’s guidance on the issue.
According to Justice Lebotse, the measures by the judiciary that include exclusion of large numbers (members of the public) from the public gallery were reasonable and “and the global outbreak does not warrant a postponement.” “I find the measures put in place reasonable and, therefore, a postponement cannot be made over the issue,” Lebotse said.
This was after the defence lawyers requested a postponement arguing since they will be forced to consult with clients during the trial, they could be exposed to the virus. The lawyers also complained that the measures put by the judiciary to exclude the public from proceedings, violated the principle of fair trial, mainly open and fair trial.
The defence team includes Advocate Karabo Mohau KC, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika and Advoactes Letuka Molati and Khotso Letuka, while the prosecution is represented by Advocate Shawn Abrahams assisted by Advocate Nnaki Nku. The defence lawyers also said they have up to date not been furnished with all the documents in the trial, specifically documents relating to a habeas corpus application that was made on behalf of one of the accused persons.
The documents have not been served to the lawyers notwithstanding a written request to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the office of the Registrar of the High Court. The lawyers believe the said documents are necessary to enable them to prepare for their defence. Justice Lebotse agreed with them and said the request to have access to the documents is reasonable adding that failure to provide the documents by the Registrar was unreasonable.
“I find that request reasonable . . . Failure to provide such was unreasonable,” Judge Lebotse said. He added, “it is my view that failure to provide documents by the DPP and Registrar justifies postponement.”The case was accordingly postponed to August 31 until September 15.
In the case Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (53), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32), Private Nthatakane Motanyane (27), Brigadiers Rapele Mphaki (50), Motšoane Machai (41), Liphapang Sefako (51) and Nemase Faso (31) stand accused of murdering Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane in Setibing on May 16, 2017.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after the trio had just been released from police custody where they were detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border gate on May 13 in the same year.
The case has been dragging in court for several reasons, but mainly because the government wanted to engage foreign judges to preside over high profile cases involving members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) – including the present case.
The judges were subjected to a constitutional challenge leading to the delay of the trials. The Appeal Court eventually ruled that the appointment of foreign judges was constitutional after the soldiers alleged the government interfered in the appointment.
Before postponing the case to August 31, Justice Lebotse warned accused number 9, Faso, to accept the state funded lawyer (Pro deo counsel) availed to him or risk presenting himself. This was after the court was informed that Faso is refusing to talk with the pro deo cousel appointed to him.
Faso told the court that he was not prepared to work with the pro deo cousel appointed on his behalf but that he prefers working with Advocate Mohau Teele KC, to which Judge Lebotse told him that Advocate Teele has since withdrawn from representing him.
“Advocate Teele emphatically expressed to this court that he is no longer representing you; I am therefore urging you to exercise your democratic right by using the pro deo counsel availed to you,” Judge Lebotse said. He added: “I am not ordering you but I am advising you to use the services provided to you. When the trial starts on August 31, there won’t be a postponement because you have not secured a lawyer.”