High profile cases threatened

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. . . as pro deo lawyers remain unpaid for their services

Mohalenyane Phakela

LAWYERS engaged by the government to represent members of security agencies accused of various crimes remain unpaid.

This could derail several high-profile trials featuring prominent military and police personnel facing various crimes including murder and treason, some of the lawyers say.

There are more than 40 soldiers and police officers currently on trial for various crimes and most of them are being represented by lawyers who were appointed by the government on a pro deo basis.

Some of the lawyers involved in the high-profile cases include Attorney Qhalehang Letsika and Advocates Hopolang Nathane, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau, Letuka Molati, Kabelo Letuka, Motjantji Kao, Silas Ratau and Lepeli Molapo. It is not clear how many of them are representing their clients on a pro deo basis.

Nevertheless, Adv Mafaesa said they had not been paid since taking up the cases at different times last year.

“None of the defence lawyers who have been engaged on a pro deo basis have ever been paid since the trials started,” Adv Mafaesa said.

Pro deo lawyers are paid M400 per court appearance which is still very low. This amounts to about M8000 per month and it is not enough to pay rent and support staff at the office. The worst part is that we are still unpaid even though the money is inadequate.

“These high-profile cases are usually set down for a month and we have been told to give them priority.  This means that we have to focus on these cases while our livelihoods are being prejudiced by the non-payment of our appearance fees,” Adv Mafaesa added.

Another lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said they could soon be forced to withdraw their services if the government did not urgently address their concerns.

Should this happen, the much-delayed trials could be further delayed.

Prominent lawyers like Adv Mda have previously withdrawn their services due to non-payment. Adv Mda used to represent Sergeant Malefane Heqoa and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko. The duo is accused of attempted murder alongside former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, Major Pitso Ramoepane and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane. The charges are in connection with the January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the residence of former First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane and former Police Commissioner Khothatso Tsooana.

Another lawyer, Adv Mohau also withdrew his pro deo services for police Senior Superintendent Thabo Tsukulu who is one of the four police officers accused of murdering their colleague, Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng in March 2016. Adv Mohau only resumed representing Senior Supt Tsukulu after the latter’s wife agreed to pay him.

The lawyers are not the only ones who have raised payment concerns. Last month, the lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, resigned over payment delays.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, subsequently said she would do everything in her power to ensure that Adv Abrahams was paid to enable him to resume the prosecution of the high-profile cases.

A month later, it is still unclear if he has been paid. He has not been in court ever since.

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