THE government has finalised the recruitment of foreign judges to preside over the much-anticipated criminal trials of past and serving members of the security agencies which are said to be politically sensitive.
This was revealed by the Acting Registrar of the High Court, Pontšo Phafoli, in recent interview with the Lesotho Times.
However, Ms Phafoli did not say when the judges would arrive and when the trials would finally begin. She said their arrival dates would only be known after the government has discussed the issue with the respective judges. She also said that the number of judges being brought in for the cases could still be increased if the circumstances warranted such an increase.
“We have completed the process of recruiting foreign judges who will preside over the selected cases but it is not yet certain as to when they will be in the country,” Ms Phafoli said.
“We are yet to discuss with them (foreign judges) as to when they will be prepared to start work so I am not in a position to say their exact dates of arrival. I also cannot disclose their countries of origin or the exact number of those coming because that is subject to change as the current number that we asked for may increase.”
The government previously said that the foreign judges will be in Lesotho by September this year in time to hear cases including those of murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli; Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) Deputy Leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the former Police Commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa.
But three weeks into November, there is still no sign of the foreign judges.
Although Ms Phafoli would not reveal any names citing the need for confidentiality, government sources have said that South Africa is one of the countries that will provide judges.
The delay in the arrival of the judges has already caused the postponement of the murder trial of Mr Mokhosi, Mr Letsoepa and four senior police officers which had been scheduled for 4 September this year.
Messrs Mokhosi, Letsoepa and the four police officers stand accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng two years ago.
In June this year, High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo set 4 to 7 September 2018 as the trial dates for the murder case.
This was after the defence lawyers and the prosecution had submitted that they had been informed by the office of the Registrar and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that foreign judges would be available from September to hear this and other cases involving members of the security agencies.
But the trial failed to kick-off on 4 September as there were still no foreign judges who had been assigned to the case. The case is set to be heard on Tuesday 20 November but given the non-arrival of foreign judges, it is likely to be postponed once again.
It also remains to be seen if the murder and attempted murder trials of Lt-Gen Kamoli will begin as expected on 23 November this year.
Lt-Gen Tlali stands accused of murder in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at the Police Headquarters in Maseru during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
In the second case, the former army chief faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
In this case the former Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane, is on record saying that the decision to engage foreign judges was taken to protect local judges from possible victimisation and backlash from trying the “politically sensitive cases”.
Mr Moletsane said while the local judges were competent enough to try the cases, the government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) still felt it necessary to engage foreign judges because the cases in question were politically sensitive. He further said that the verdicts of the foreign judges were less likely to be viewed as biased.
“It has never been about the incompetency of local judges as the government believes they are capable enough to preside over the cases.
“However, the government and SADC agreed that due to the nature of the cases which are said to be politically sensitive, it would be best to source foreign judges because local judges are at risk of being victimised for the verdicts they would give for the cases,” Mr Moletsane said.