THE uncertainty surrounding the engagement of foreign judges to preside over the criminal trials of past and serving members of the security agencies as well as other politically sensitive cases has caused the postponement of the Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng murder trial.
The government has previously said that the foreign judges will be in Lesotho by September in time to hear cases including those of murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli; Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) Deputy Leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the former Police Commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa.
But four weeks into September, there is still no sign of the foreign judges and the government is uncertain as to when they will finally arrive.
The delay in the arrival of the judges has already caused the postponement of the murder trial of Mr Mokhosi, Mr Letsoepa and four senior police officers which had been scheduled for 4 September this year.
Messrs Mokhosi, Letsoepa and the four police officers stand accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng two years ago.
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. While Mr Mokhosi is out on bail and Mr Letsoepa fled the country last year, the four other police officers are still detained at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.
In June this year, High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo set 4 to 7 September 2018 as the trial dates for the murder case.
This was after the defence lawyers and the prosecution had submitted that they had been informed by the office of the Registrar and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that foreign judges would be available from September to hear this and other cases involving members of the security agencies.
But the trial failed to kick-off on Tuesday 4 September as there were still no foreign judges who had been assigned to the case. The case was subsequently postponed to Tuesday 25 September.
But on Tuesday, Justice Nomngcongo once again postponed the case, this time to 6 November 2018, when it is thought the foreign judges would have arrived to preside over the case.
Justice Nomngcongo postponed the case despite representations by the prosecution and the defence lawyers that they were ready for the trial.
“During the last session (on 4 September) I promised that the case will continue today and I can say we are ready and the witnesses are present,” said the prosecutor, Counsel Advocate ‘Naki Nku.
The defence lawyers, Advocate Karabo Mohau (KC) and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika also said they were ready for the trial to start.
“We are ready to proceed but the matter keeps being postponed. However, there is nothing we can do about it. May it happen as the court pleases,” Attorney Letsika said.
He said this after Justice Nomngcongo had announced the postponement on the grounds that he was told by Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara that the case would be heard by a foreign judge.
“I have been told by the Chief Justice that this case is among those which will be heard by foreign judges. I was also told that preparations for them to be in the country are at an advanced stage so I am hopeful that on the remanded date of 6 November we will know who will be presiding over this case,” Justice Nomngcongo said on Tuesday.
In a recent interview with this publication, the Acting Registrar of the High Court, Pontšo Phafoli, said it was premature to give details as the process to bring in the foreign judges was still in its early stages.
“We are still in the negotiation stage with the countries which will be assisting Lesotho with the judges and therefore we cannot give any dates as to when they (judges) are expected to arrive in the country,” Ms Phafoli said a fortnight ago.
Although she would not reveal any names citing the need for confidentiality, government sources have said that South Africa is one of the countries that will provide judges once an agreement has been reached.
It also remains to be seen if the murder and attempted murder trials of Lt-Gen Kamoli will begin as expected on 9 October this year.
In the first case which has been set for 9 to 12 October, Lt-Gen Tlali stands accused of murder in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at the Police Headquarters in Maseru during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
In the second case, the former army chief is facing 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
The attempted murder case has been set for 16 to 19 October 2018.
In this case the former Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane, recently told the Lesotho Times that the decision to engage foreign judges was taken to protect local judges from possible victimisation and backlash that could arise 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.