Acting Chief Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi on Tuesday attributed the huge backlog of cases in the High Court to lack of supervision.
Justice Monaphathi made the remarks when he had to postpone a criminal case in which a 30-year-old Quthing man, Tšele Masupha is facing two counts of murder and one of attempted murder.
Masupha is accused of killing Kolas Macachoane and Lineo Mpobole, as well as shooting and injuring Ntombizanele Macachoane on May 22, 2002 in Paballong, Quthing district.
However, the case could not proceed because his file was missing, while on the other hand, there were no crown witnesses present.
After the case was postponed to 10 March 2015, Masupha’s lawyer, Advocate Tšeliso Fosa, complained that his client had been called to court three times without the case proceeding.
“The last time we appeared in court, the file was missing and it was said that the case had been postponed for the last time. May it be the last postponement, my Lord,” Advocate Fosa pleaded.
In response, Justice Monaphathi did not mince his words in expressing his own displeasure with the postponed.
“We are embarrassed by this. We are now trying to introduce a system whereby the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) would call crown witnesses, for efficiency.
“On the other hand, there must be a way by which the court can have a mechanism to chase witnesses when need arises. Here we have many problems.
“We had a meeting recently with the police, (DCEO) Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences, the office of the DPP, registrars and myself, where we shared the problems, hoping they would be resolved.
“We found that 50 percent of the problems in disposing of cases lies with the High Court. The problem here is supervision. Here no one drives another. I wonder if the person who put this case on the roll for today ever took trouble to look for the file.
“As for lawyers, I cannot say much. But now, as I speak, the report is out to be scrutinised by the ministers of Law and Justice regarding the status of the Law Society.
“I was criticised after making a speech during the opening of the High Court on the state of our lawyers. Sometimes, one wonders if certain lawyers were duly admitted into practice,” he said.
But Justice Monaphathi said it was not the crown and the defence’s fault that the case was not proceeding after being postponed three times.
He said the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Douglas Scott, expressed his concern about the performance of the High Court on criminal cases.
“Three weeks ago, the Court of Appeal President came to complain to me that for the past three sessions of the Court of Appeal, he observed that there were fewer criminal cases from the High Court, saying that must not happen.
“He said criminal cases must be seen in great numbers in the Court of Appeal because the High Court rules show that the High Court should give priority to criminal cases.
“But I think we have now identified the problem.
“For about six months, we thought the problem was with serving summons and subpoenas. But we have realised that another problem is that criminal cases are not being set for hearing.
“It seems we have adopted a system used by the Commonwealth or Australia, whereby each individual judge sets his or her cases for her or himself. This is good for civil cases, not criminal cases.
“Criminal cases must be set by the registrar. Now judges set cases on the influence of lawyers.
“Since 2010, lawyers seemed to be more involved in civil cases. Prisons are now full with people awaiting trial, with their cases not proceeding. This is about to change.
“Four judges will now concentrate on criminal cases. Each judge will deal with criminal cases for six months and the registrar will set criminal cases for hearing for each individual judge.
“Some judges will have to go to Leribe and Mohale’s Hoek, as a way to address transport problems for witnesses,” he said.
Meanwhile, when postponing the case to next year, Justice Monaphathi told Masupha: “If the case does not proceed on that date, I will set you free.”