BOTSWANA judge, Justice Onkemetse Tshosa, has slammed some of the lawyers representing the murder-accused soldiers for inexplicably absenting themselves from court from Wednesday to Friday.
Some of the lawyers who did not show up in court are King’s Counsels, Advocates Karabo Mohau and Motiea Teele.
Justice Tshosa said the lawyers’ unacceptable behaviour frustrated the administration of justice. He however, said their absence would not stop the high profile trials of the soldiers, adding that the state would have to assign lawyers on a pro deo basis to represent the soldiers if need be.
Three groups of soldiers appeared before Justice Tshosa from Wednesday until Friday and on all those days, some of the soldiers including Major Pitso Ramoepana and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane were stranded in court without legal representation.
Captain Nyakane appeared in court on Wednesday to face charges of murdering police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko during the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
In this matter, Captain Nyakane is charged alongside former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa. Captain Nyakane and Lance Corporal Motsieloa’s lawyers did not attend Wednesday’s remand hearing. The Ramahloko murder trial has been set for 4 to 14 February 2020 and 9 to 20 March 2020.
Captain Nyakane appeared again on Friday alongside Lance Corporal Khauhelo Makoae, Lance Corporal Sebilo Sebilo, Privates T?epo Tlakeli and Thebe T?epe on charges of murdering Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie and Pakiso Ntala Letatabe at Ha Motanyane in Mafeteng in 2012. The trial has been penciled in for 2 to 6 March 2020 and 16 to 30 April 2020.
Again on Friday, Captain Nyakane did not have a lawyer. Lance Corporal Sebilo and Private T?epe were also without legal representation.
Major Ramoepana, who appeared on Thursday in connection with the 5 September 2017 murder of army commander, Khoantle Motšomotšo, did not have a lawyer too. He will stand trial on 25 November to 6 December 2019.
In each of the appearances, Justice Tshosa asked about the absence of the lawyers and got similar responses, stating that the lawyers had probably decided to abandon they could no longer afford the legal fees.
But the judge was not amused by the responses or by the lawyers’ absence.
“It seems you conspired to tell the court that you do not know the whereabouts of your lawyers because I have been getting the same answer in different cases,” Justice Tshosa said on Friday.
“The court cannot accept this kind of behaviour your lawyers seem to be displaying because a lawyer cannot just decide to abscond proceedings without notifying the court. If a lawyer wishes to withdraw from a case, he should do so by formally informing the court of his absence. If they no longer wish to represent you, they should officially withdraw.
“They behave as if we are in a kangaroo court and this is an insult to administration of justice and that behaviour frustrates the administration of justice,” Justice Tshosa said.
Before that on Wednesday and Thursday, Justice Tshosa ordered the accused soldiers to ensure that they come with their lawyers for their remand hearing on 15 November 2019.
“You should make sure that on 15 November you come with your legal representatives failing which the registrar shall appoint pro deo counsels for you. Should you reject the chosen lawyers, you will have to represent yourselves.
“The matter is postponed to 15 November 2019 for mention and counsels make sure all necessary documents are exchanged by then. The trial dates are set for 4 to 14 February 2020 and 9 to 20 March 2020. We cannot be held at ransom by counsels who do not want to come to court and you should also know that a right to a legal representation is not absolute, with or without lawyers, the trials will continue,” Justice Tshosa ordered.