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Lawyers fume over foreign judges

by Lesotho Times
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Mohalenyane Phakela

DEFENCE lawyers in the case in which the deputy leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Tšeliso Mokhosi, and former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa stand accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016 are frustrated by the continued postponement of the trial.

On Tuesday, one of the defence lawyers, Adv Zwelakhe Mda KC, told High Court judge, Sakoane Sakoane that they could not understand why the case required a foreign judge to preside over it when it was similar to other murder cases which had been heard by local judges in the same court.

Adv Mda said this after Justice Sakoane had remanded the case to 17 December 2018 saying he believed that by then the foreign judge selected for the case would be present.

“We put it before this court that defendants have been ready to be tried by local judges but there has never been a clear reason that our clients should be given special treatment of being tried by foreign judges,” Adv Mda KC said.

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane, has previously told the Lesotho Times 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.

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; Mr Mokhosi and Mr Letsoepa.

But three weeks into November, there is still no sign of the foreign judges.

And on Tuesday another lawyer in the PC Khetheng case, Adv Karabo Mohau KC, said they were frustrated that at every court appearance they were told the foreign judge would be present in the next court sitting.

“Like before, we were promised that the foreign judge would be present today. In December the judge would probably still not be present,” Adv Mohau KC said.

However, Justice Sakoane told the lawyers to table their grievances before the foreign judge who will preside over trial. Justice Sakoane expressed confidence that the trial will begin on 17 December 2018.

“I do not see any reason why the trial should not start on 17 December if the judge allocated to preside over this matter is present. He is the person you will have to table your grievances to,” Justice Sakoane said.

In the case, Mr Mokhosi and Mr Letsoepa stand accused of murdering PC Khetheng in 2016.

The duo is charged alongside four other police officers.

The other officers are Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, Superintendent Mothibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and Police Constable Haleokoe Taasoane who are all currently on suspension from the police service.

Justice Nomngcongo had earlier in June set 4 to 7 September 2018 as the trial dates for the murder case, but the trial failed to kick-off on 4 September as the presiding judge (s) had still not been allocated to the case.

The Acting High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, recently told this publication that the hiring process was complete and all that was left was to set the arrival dates of the foreign judges.

It remains to be seen if Mr Mokhosi will be tried after the government and the opposition recently signed a deal that will ensure that opposition leaders will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the processes leading up to the implementation of the multi-sector reforms.

The deal paves the way for the return of exiled opposition leaders to participate in the processes towards the implementation of the multi-sector reforms. The exiled leaders include former Deputy Prime Minister and current LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing, Mr Mokhosi and the leader of the Socialist Revolution (SR) Teboho Mojapela.

Also expected to return are Mr Letsoepa, former Director of the National Security Services (NSS), Tumo Lekhooa; Assistant Superintendent Bereng Ramahetlane who is an officer with the Lesotho Correctional Service and Mr Lebohang Setsomi who was head of procurement at the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.

They are expected home on Sunday after being in exile in South Africa for periods ranging from a few months to more than a year.

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