Local judges take over high profile cases
…amid fears that their verdicts may not be universally acceptable
THREE local judges, including Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, will preside over the high-profile trials which had initially been allocated to Botswana Judge, Onkemetse Tshosa.
This follows Justice Tshosa’s resignation from the Lesotho High Court bench on 1 August 2021.
The judiciary’s public relations officer, ‘Mabohlokoa Mapikitla, said Justice Tshosa had resigned due to “personal reasons which the judiciary cannot disclose”.
However, well-placed government and judicial sources said Justice Tshosa had been frustrated by the frequent delays in the trials he is supposed to preside over. These include the treason and murder trial of politicians Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane. The two are accused alongside former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane and Lance Corporals Leutsoa Motsieloa and Motloheloa Ntsane.
The sources had also said that Justice Tshosa’s departure was a huge blow to the government’s quest to expedite the high-profile cases. His departure coupled with last year’s resignation of fellow Botswana Judge Kabelo Lebotse, means that Zimbabwean, Charles Hungwe, is the only foreign judge left on the High Court’s roster for the high-profile cases.
Should he leave for any reason this means the original idea of having foreign judges presiding over the cases would have fallen away. The foreign judges had been recruited due to fears that whatever verdicts local judges reached if they tried the cases would fuel perceptions of bias and not be acceptable to all. This scenario could still happen now that local judges are taking over most of the cases following the departure of Justice Lebotse and Tshosa.
The judiciary has moved to ensure that the much-delayed trials continue by appointing Justice Sakoane and two other local judges to take over the cases from Justice Tshosa.
In a weekend interview with the Sunday Express, Ms Mapikitla said Justices Sakoane, Polo Banyane and Moroke Mokhesi will take over the cases.
“The Chief Justice has been allocated the treason and murder case while Justice Banyane will take over the murder case of five soldiers accused of murdering some civilians in 2012,” Ms Mapikitla said.
She said Justice Mokhesi will take over the murder trial of 10 soldiers accused of the 2017 murder of three civilians.
Justice Banyane has already started presiding over his case. Five soldiers, namely, Captain Nyakane, Lance Corporals Khauhelo Makoae and Sebilo Sebilo and Privates Tšepo Tlakeli and Thebe Tšepe appeared before Justice Banyane on Friday on charges of murdering three civilians in 2012.
They stand accused of murdering Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie and Pakiso Ntala Letatabe at Ha Motanane, Mafeteng in 2012.
Justice Banyane postponed the case to 13 August 2021. On that day, the judge is expected finalise the pre-trial conference before the actual trial begins.
Justice Sakoane will tomorrow hear the application by Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to stop the state from joining them to the treason and murder trial alongside Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Kamoli and others.
The treason charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Mr Metsing, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader and current Development Planning Minister Mochoboroane was Communications minister and LCD secretary general at the time. Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Mr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before allegedly orchestrating the attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane and the three other soldiers accused alongside them. Messrs Thabane and Metsing had fallen out with the latter alleging he was not being consulted on key decisions.
The murder case is in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko which occurred during the same attempted coup against Mr Thabane’s government on 30 August 2014.
Justice Mokhesi is this week expected to formally introduce himself as the presiding judge in the case of the 10 soldiers accused of the 2017 murder of three civilians. He is then expected to map the way forward regarding the dates for the trial.
The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Major Pitso Ramoepane, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali and Privates Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Liphapang Sefako, Nemase Faso and Tieho Tikiso.
They are accused of strangling Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumping their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after the trio had just been released from police custody where they were detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.
Meanwhile, Justice Hungwe will stay on as the only foreign judge presiding over high-profile trials including Lt-Gen Kamoli and others’ trial for the 25 June 2015 murder of army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lt-Gen Kamoli’s co-accused are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporals Motšoane Machai, Marasi ‘Moleli, Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Tšitso Ramoholi.
Some judicial sources have said even if the high-profile cases are allocated to local judges, there could still be problems in future.
“Remember the foreign judges were recruited due to fears that the verdicts of local judges would be called into question. So even if these cases go ahead under local judges, there will be problems whichever the verdicts go,” a source said in an interview with the Lesotho Times three weeks ago.
The government first approached SADC members states in 2018 for help in securing foreign judges to try the high-profile cases.
At the time, then Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, said while the local judges were competent enough to try the cases, the government and 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.
With the help of SADC, the government eventually secured the services of Justices Hungwe, Tshosa and Lebotse. The judges’ allowances are paid from a fund sourced from the EU.