MASERU — A defence lawyer has opposed an application by a state prosecutor asking the High Court to accept incriminating statements made by eight accused police officers during an inquest into the death of Chief Bereng Bereng.
Eight police officers are facing a murder charge in the High Court for allegedly killing Bereng in 2002 near the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC) in Maseru.
An inquest conducted by the Maseru magistrate’s court concluded that the eight police officers should be charged with the murder of Bereng.
But Advocate Zwelakhe Mda who represents the accused wants the High Court to disqualify statements made by the accused police officers during the inquest because they were made under duress.
The eight are accused of allegedly pursuing and shooting Bereng to death after the chief had allegedly shot and injured one of the police officers near a hotel in Maseru.
The evidence produced in the High Court is that Bereng’s vehicle overturned when the police pursued him.
The court was also told that after the vehicle overturned Bereng and two other occupants of his vehicle ran away as the police were shooting at them.
Bereng was then allegedly shot and killed near the LDTC in Maseru by the police.
An inquest to establish if the eight police officers had a case to answer was subsequently conducted by the Maseru magistrate’s court.
State prosecutor Gareth Leppan on Tuesday asked the High Court to allow his team to submit statements which were made by the eight police officers during the inquest as part of the evidence against them.
Leppan said the court should accept the statements because they were made voluntarily during the inquest and they formed part of the inquest’s record of proceedings.
“The statements were handed in by consent during the inquest proceedings. I don’t see why it is an issue now when they are supposed to be handed in.
“It is common practice to hand in documents or statements from the previous judicial proceedings,” Leppan said.
However, Mda objected to the handing in of the incriminating statements.
Mda said accepting such statements would amount to denying the accused persons their constitutional right to a fair trial.
He told the court that the statements were not made voluntarily.
He also said the prosecution had ambushed him by not informing him that they would request to hand in such documents.
“With due respect My Lord we have been taken by surprise.
“We were supposed to be appraised before particularly when the issue concerns issues of fact not the law,” Mda said.
Mda said it is not true that the accused’s statements were handed in voluntarily during the inquest.
“How can we agree to the handing in of statements which were not made voluntarily?
“This is the issue of fact which I submit has to be challenged by way of giving evidence on what had actually transpired during the inquest proceedings,” Mda said.
High Court Judge Thamsanqa Nomncongo said he needed time to make a ruling on whether the statements and some extracts of the record of the inquest proceedings should be handed in or not.