Hungwe’s contract set to expire month end

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…JSC mum on EU offer to fund its renewal &recruitment of another foreign judge

Mohalenyane Phakela

SOME of the high-profile trials of politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies could soon be in limbo amid indications that Judge Charles Hungwe’s contract will expire on 28 February 2022.

Justice Hungwe was recruited in 2019 by the government and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). His salary is paid by the European Union (EU). EU ambassador to Lesotho, Paola Amadei, recently told the Lesotho Times that the regional bloc was prepared to continue funding his salary “for as long as it takes for him to finalise his cases”. These include former army commander, Tlali Kamoli and others’ trial for the June 2015 murder of army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao.

Ambassador Amadei said the EU was even prepared to fund the recruitment of another foreign judge but everything depended on whether or not the Lesotho government approached them for such support.

But with just over two weeks to go before the expiry of Justice Hungwe’s contract, it is not clear whether or not the JSC is committed to renewing the judge’s contract. Nor is it clear that the government is willing to recruit another foreign judge to help deal with the slow-moving trials.

JSC secretary ‘Mathato Sekoai was unwilling to speak on the matter when this publication contacted her over the issue.

“I can only discuss JSC issues with you when I’ve been authorised to do so by the Commission,” Advocate Sekoai said in her brief response yesterday.

Law and Justice Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane’s mobile phone rang unanswered.

When asked about the issue recently, Ambassador Amadei said, “the EU has been supporting the judiciary in relation to the high-profile trials first via SADC and now through the UNDP that is managing the programme”.

“Our involvement was based on a request by the government of Lesotho. We didn’t just impose ourselves. The support was necessitated by the Lesotho government’s desire to ensure a transparent process. The government felt there may be pressure on the local judges. The government wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be any suspicions of bias either in favour of the suspects or against them. So, for that reason, international judges were recruited. Currently, only one of the international judges, Charles Hungwe, is still in place. But we are willing to support the recruitment of another international judge.

“Our support will always be available depending on whether the government needs it. We are prepared to continue assisting for as long as it takes to finalise the high-profile trials,” Ambassador Amadei added.

Justice Hungwe’s contract was only renewed in November 2021. This after it had expired on 31 October 2021.

Although it was clear that he would not have finalised the cases before him by then, Justice Hungwe’s contract was only extended until 28 February 2022.

Justice Hungwe was engaged by the government and JSC in January 2019 to try the high-profile trials involving politicians and members of the national security agencies.

At the time, then Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, said although local judges were competent enough to try the cases, the government and SADC felt it necessary to engage foreign judges because the cases in question were politically sensitive. He said the verdicts of the foreign judges were less likely to be viewed as biased.

With the help of SADC, the government eventually secured the services of Justice Hungwe who was later joined in August 2019 by two Botswana judges Kabelo Lebotse and Onkemetse Tshosa.

However, Justices Lebotse and Tshosa resigned in May 2020 and August 2021 respectively, complaining of poor working conditions, among other things. They were also unhappy about the delaying tactics deployed by the suspects to stall the trials.

Their resignations left Justice Hungwe with the gargantuan task of presiding over some of the high-profile trials by himself. Some of the cases, including the treason and murder trial of politicians, Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane, Lt-Gen Kamoli and others, have since been allocated to local judges including Justice Sakoane.

Justice Hungwe was left to continue with Lt-Gen Kamoli and eight other soldiers’ trial for the June 2015 murder of army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao.

He also continued with Lt-Gen Kamoli and four other soldiers’ attempted murder trial over the January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the houses of former First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and former Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

He is also presiding over the trial of Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu and three other police officers for the March 2016 murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng.

 

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