Lawyers warned against unethical conduct

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By Itumeleng Koleile

Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane has reprimanded lawyers announcing their withdrawal from representing soldiers and police officers accused of treasons, murder and attempted murder from scandalising the courts and bringing them into disrepute.

Justice Sakoane was responding to a letter alluding to the withdrawal of ten lawyers from criminal cases of soldiers and police officers who have been incarcerated on charges of treason, murder, attempted murder.

The letter in question alleges that soldiers and police officers detained at the Maseru maximum security prison are suffering a great deal of sub-human treatment at the hands of the members of the Lesotho Correctional Services while the courts deny them bail.

The lawyers had complained they are withdrawing their services until their clients’ conditions are treated humanely as they alleged they are denied food, crammed in overcrowded cells, given meagre portions of food for the last meal of the day.

The lawyers said such conditions are a miscarriage of justice which ultimately leads to an unfairly and biased trial against these incarcerated members of the security agencies.

The lawyers said they are withdrawing as they cannot participate in charade trials that their continued representation of the imprisoned soldiers and police officers legitimise.

In response, Chief Justice Sakoane said although the lawyers have a right to the freedom of expression, in exercising such, they ought to always conduct themselves in accordance with the law and recognized standards of the legal profession.

Sakoane added the contents of the statement on the withdrawal envisaged scandalises the court.

Sakoane also said it was improper for him to comment on allegations that characterised the trials as “charades and accusing the trial judges of behaving in the most nonchalant manner unprecedented in the jurisdiction” made by the lawyers.

He said it is improper for him to comment on issues the lawyers raised as there has not been any pronounced judgement as trials are under judges respectively.

The Chief Justice added he is not entitled to intervene on matters handled by other judges.

“I confine my response to aspects of the trials in which judgements have been pronounced either by trial judges or the Court of Appeal.

“In the course of responding, I will also comment on the aspect of unethical conduct by these lawyers,” Sakoane said in his response.

He also warned the lawyers to be beware that constitutionally any individual who publishes or makes statements which are calculated to bring any judicial officer or court into disrepute commits an offence.

He argues that if however, a lawyer loses an argument it is allowed that he may review procedures to seek corrective judicial action; that it is an available constitutional avenue the lawyers must pursue and stay away from making political statements.

“Any appeal to non-judicial bodies is an appeal for political interference with the judicial independence and an endeavour to delegitimize the criminal trials,” he said.

Sakoane said a lawyer who resorts to such betrays their oath to uphold and respect the courts, the law and the constitution.

Sakoane said the lawyers represent the accused individuals through the choice of the accused, as such if they do not want to continue representing their clients, they are obliged to withdraw.

He, however, said since the accused individuals cannot withdraw from the proceedings, they can be assisted by being given a state counsel to represent them or represent themselves until the trials reach finality.

“According to the Speedy Court Trials Act No. 9 of 2002, a criminal trial must proceed without interruption on the scheduled dates and a lawyer who interrupts such trials can be sanctioned or reported to the Law Society for disciplinary action,” he said.

Sakoane also said that it is a misinterpretation of facts that the trials are yet to take off for reasons that cannot be blamed on the accused persons.

He made an example on the joined case of August, 2, 2019 whereby Mokhosi and 15 others challenged the constitutionality of the appointment of foreign judges, Charles Hungwe and Onkemetse Tshosa, which they lost.

“Moreover, two suspects accused in the murder of Maaparankoe Mahao and Mokheseng Ramahloko challenged the constitutionality of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Act 2002; that required them to show exceptional circumstances to qualify for bail.

“Not only were they challenging the CP&E Act 2002, but also they claimed being detained under inhuman conditions at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution which was dismissed by the court. The court stated that such issues are communicated in the trial court.

“Among other delay tactics, in May 2018 Pitso Ramoepana challenged the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions to withhold witnesses’ statements until the trial date was announced, which he lost and appealed, which he also lost. The suspects also decided to apply for the recusal of the judges presiding on their cases but lost the case,” said Sakoane.

The Chief Justice said the statement was written by seasoned lawyers who should oblige and respect rulings of the court and only criticise them in the available review process. He said any statements issued to the national and international community to seek sympathy is a political space which judicial officers need not enter.

The letter was directed to Advocate Zwelakhe Mda KC, Advocate Karabo Mohau KC, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika, Advocate Letuka Molati, Advocate Koa-Theoha, Advocate Ratau, Advocate Kao, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, Advocate Napo Mafaesa and Tuke.

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