MASERU – Employment contracts for two foreign judges hired to hear high profile cases involving members of different security agencies have been extended by an additional six months. The contracts will now run until the end of October, 2021 and no commitment has been made to extend them beyond the new deadline. The initial agreement ended on April 30, 2021 but little or no progress has been made on the trials, prompting an extension.
In all the trials, save for one, evidence is yet to be led and the rest of the cases have had to be delayed mainly because of the interlocutory applications by the suspects. Both Justice Charles Hungwe and Onkemetse Tshosa have been asked to recuse themselves in more than one instances.
The prosecution has also been blamed for delaying to release witness statements, amending some of the charge sheets at the very late stage. The charge sheets have been amended in at least two cases and in all the cases, the defense responded by challenging the amendment causing a further postponement to the actual trials.
High Court and Appeal Court Registrar, Advocate Mathato Sekoai declined to give details about the two judges’ contracts when contacted this week but only said the projects is expected to run until October this year without divulging any further details.
Public Eye can report that that European Union has agreed to the contracts’ extension. However, there will be no additional funding as the jurists will be catered for under the initial budget since the budget has not been exhausted after the third foreign judge resigned last year. Moreover, although three judges were initially hired, the budget catered for up to five judges. The initial funding was estimated at just over M15 million.
Head of European Union Delegation to Lesotho, Christian Manahl says the contracts cannot be extended beyond the current deadline.
“The contracts have already been extended, they had reached the 18 months limit we have under this specific arrangement; they cannot be extended unfortunately, this is what the regulations say,” he said, in an interview with Public Eye.
Asked whether the EU has agreed to release an additional funding for the continued stay of the judges, Manahl said, “should it be necessary that the judges need to stay beyond the set period of time, which I hope will not be the case, we will look into that and see whether there are possibilities. I cannot make a commitment at this stage.”
Aware that the high profile trials are far from over, government requested EU for an extension of their current support to the judiciary.
Manahl said the decision to extend from April until October was an easy one as “we fully understand the reason for the request – trials are ongoing and we can consent to it with the framework that our regulations give us.”
He explained that the current extension was necessitated by the fact part of the funds remain used. “The total amount initially budgeted for is about €900,000 (about M15.3 million) and this was foreseen for five judges from the SADC region but for a shorter period of time. In the end, only three judges were recruited and one has resigned, hence it is possible to extend the project duration without an additional allocation of funds.”
The judges were engaged following the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation that security personnel implicated in a number of crimes believed to have contributed to the country’s stability be prosecuted using the best international standards.
Three judges were, as a resulted, recruited including former South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss, Shaun Abrahams who is the lead prosecutor in all the high profile trials. One of the three judges, Justice Kabelo Lebotse resigned over what he described as poor working conditions and was never replaced.
From the beginning, suspects have been opposed to the appointment of foreign judges and they launched a constitutional petition in a bid to declare the appointments unconstitutional.
They argued that the appointment was tainted by executive interference but the court disagreed with them and ruled that the government acted constitutionally in their involvement when the recruitment was done.
The matter was taken to the Court of Appeal which also dismissed them.
The suspects now have a pending case against the two judges and have since asked the Constitutional Court to direct His Majesty Kng Letsie III to appoint a tribunal to inquire into the judges’ fitness to hold office. They have laid a litany of complaints against the judges and said the alleged misconduct disqualifies the judges from further presiding over the trials.