Covid glitch in Khetheng murder case

Lawyer in isolation, another seeking vaccine

RELEBOHILE TSOMOTSE

MASERU – Covid-19 has become the latest hindrance to the conclusion of long-drawn-out high profile court cases before court. Pressure has been mounting on the judiciary to complete high profile criminal cases linked to the 2014 political disturbances currently before court and numerous factors have contributed to the stalling of the trials. High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, was recently forced to postpone a murder trial in which four police officers are answering charges in relation to their ex-colleague, Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng, because defense lawyers are unable to attend court due to health reasons.

Advocate Zwelakhe Mda represents three of the accused persons, and he informed the court through a letter to the Registrar that he has been in contact with someone who has tested positive and now has to isolate. Mda’s doctor had also booked him off duty for two days. Advocate Karabo Mohau KC also wrote to the Registrar saying he has been advised by the doctor to take the Covid vaccine as soon as possible. However, he said he is unsure as to when he was likely to get the vaccine as there are already scores of people waiting to get the vaccine.

This meant that all the accused were without legal representation and the judge was compelled to grant a postponement. Justice Hungwe said, while he understands the situation lawyers find themselves in, it is the responsibility of everybody to make arrangements after taking into account the implications to the victims of crime, the public and interest of justice. He said all are at the risk of contracting the virus but warned that he will in future not postpone the trial because lawyers cannot make it.

“I should begin by expressing my displeasure at the way in which accused persons conduct themselves in this. I had already commented about this behaviour in the previous rulings I made; counsel is aware of the ethical considerations and I need not to repeat them,” Justice Hungwe remarked. He went on to state that the “absence of counsel is not a reason to stall the trials; an accused person has a right to represent themselves and the court has a right to invoke and order that an accused represent themselves.”

Advocate Mohau had earlier asked the court to assist in making arrangements that they be vaccinated stating that the lawyers do not currently appear in the list of those who are the first to receive the vaccine but Judge Hungwe ruled that vaccination is a national issue and beyond the control of the court. The repeated postponements have far-reaching implications as Judge Hungwe’s work contract is also set to expire in October.

He is the only remaining foreign judge who was engaged to preside specifically on these high profile cases. His two colleagues, Justices Onkemetse Tshosa and Kabelo Lebotse, both from Botswana, resigned without making any significant progress on the cases they were allocated.

Slain army commander, Lieutenant General Maapankoe Mahao’s trial had also been pushed to September 13 until more witnesses expected to testify are available. Justice Hungwe also presides on the case. In a related development, Justice Polo Banyane could not immediately make progress in a trial in which five soldiers are accused of murdering three civilians in Mafeteng sometime in 2012. Prosecution has not availed mortuary records to the defense and Judge Banyane postponed the case to allow the exchange of the records.

The five accused persons are: Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporals Khauhelo Makoae, Sebilo Sebilo and Privates Tšepo Tlakeli and Thebe Tšepe. They are accused of murdering Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie and Pakiso Ntala Letatabe at Ha Motanane, Mafeteng in 2012 but the crown still had not secured the deceased’s mortuary records when they appeared in court last Friday. Advocate Mosoeunyane Masiphole, who prosecutes the case, told Justice Banyane that the hospital has undertaken to produce the record and the record will be provided to the defense.

The records were eventually discovered and a pre-trial has been set for August 30. Treason and murder case against four soldiers charged in relation to police Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko have also been put on hold to allow the High Court to determine whether politicians Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroa are rightly joined to the stand trial with the four soldiers already in detention. Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane will hear the application on August 31 after failing to hear it on Tuesday this week.

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