High profile trials: We can’t go on like this

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VICTIMS of human rights violations in our beautiful highly unstable Kingdom must wondering what needs to happen before there is actual movement with regards to the high-profile trials of politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies accused of egregious crimes.

The victims, other peace-loving Basotho and well-wishers heaved a collective sigh of relief back in 2017 when former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, and other suspects were arrested and subsequently charged with various crimes including murder and treason.

There was an air of optimism when in 2018, the previous Thomas Thabane administration and the judiciary secured three foreign judges to try the high-profile cases.

But four years down the line, not even a single case has been finalised or is anywhere near finalisation. Several obstacles have been placed in the path of the trials. Most notably, we have seen the suspects and their lawyers mounting one frivolous application after the other to stop or at least delay proceedings.

Although their applications have been repeatedly thrown out, they have still filed fresh ones. These tactics have worked like a charm as they are said to have frustrated two of the foreign judges, Kabelo Lebotse and Onkemetse Tshosa (both from Botswana) into resigning in 2020 and 2021 respectively. This left Zimbabwean Charles Hungwe as the only foreign judge.

When the victims and other observers thought they had seen it all and suffered enough due to the delays of administering justice, some invisible and cruel playwright, who is treating Lesotho as his stage for a tragic play, decided to introduce another twist to the plot: an all-consuming fight between Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane.

As reported by this publication over the past two weeks, Justice Sakoane and DPP Motinyane have been tearing each other like rabid dogs over whether or not the treason and murder trial of politicians, Mothetjoa Metsing, Selibe Mochoboroane, Lieutenant General Kamoli and other soldiers should continue in the absence of lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams.

DPP Motinyane has argued for the postponement of the trial because Adv Abrahams was already booked for other engagements in his native South Africa before Justice Sakoane had even set 10 to January 2022 as the trial dates.

But the top judge has been inflexible over the issue, saying come hell or high water, he was determined to proceed and complete the trial in those 10 days, with or without Adv Abrahams who he calls a “junior lawyer”.

The trial has taken a backseat while we all continue to be treated to the highly unusual spectacle of the Justice Sakoane trading vicious barbs with DPP Motinyane.

We accept that the Chief Justice has every right to go ballistic and call the DPP and any other lawyer to order if he feels they are frustrating court processes.

What we however, cannot fathom is the intemperate language that has characterised the top judge’s outbursts in court.

A most unsavoury dialect of insults has issued from his mouth, disparaging the DPP and even questioning her moral and intellectual suitability to prosecute this and other cases.

He has insinuated that the DPP is out of her depth and that she is biased in favour of Adv Abrahams at the expense of senior local prosecutors who could possible do a much better job than the “junior lawyer” from South Africa. We will not question where the chief justice derives the view from even though it is the kind of speculation he says he is against as he only wants to deal with facts, not opinions. We don’t know if this is a fact but that is a subject for another day.

It is enough for us to say that it is not a public secret why foreign lawyers like Adv Abrahams and foreign judges like Justice Hungwe were hired. But perhaps we need to repeat here for the chief justice’s benefit.

The recruitment of foreign legal expertise was never about the competence of their local counterparts.

But as explained by the then Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane, 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 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.

There you have it, Your Lordship. This is why the likes of Adv Abrahams are in the country. Surely, if the courts have taken time and rightly so, to accommodate the frivolous applications by the defence lawyers on behalf of their clients, the same lawyers who are now cheerleaders in your unhelpful sparring session with the DPP, you can allow the postponement of the case to allow Adv Abrahams to return from engagements which had been booked before you had even set the dates.

More importantly, casting aspersions on the DPP for merely seeking the postponement of a trial to ensure she has her lead prosecutor is unhelpful.

Ours is not to take sides with either you or the DPP. Ours is simply to speak for the voiceless and urge you and the DPP to resolve your differences without recourse to intemperate language which is unnecessarily vituperative and disparaging.

The sooner you two resolve your differences, the better. The mudslinging is heaven sent for all those who thrive on sleaze and scandal. But it is thoroughly dispiriting for victims of human rights violations who have waited for so long and are still waiting for justice to finally prevail.

The trials should proceed without unnecessary delays. Delaying the trial to allow the DPP to have her lead prosecutor is not surely not an unnecessary delay. It is perhaps necessary to ensure the DPP’s office prosecutes the case with the best weapons at its disposal.

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