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Get cases done and dusted

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IT was quite a spectacle to see Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane put his foot down this week after he pushed for a speedy trial of soldiers who are facing treason and murder charges. The soldiers, who include former army commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, have been in detention since 2017. Opposition politicians, Selibe Mochoboroane and Mothetjoa Metsing, are also facing the same charges. But ever since the soldiers were arrested in 2017, we have seen the case play out in court without any meaningful progress for various reasons. At one time, it was the soldiers themselves who in conjunction with their defence lawyers, were accused of playing tricks to delay the trials. Two of the foreign judges who were brought in to handle the case have since left Lesotho in frustration. This is a case that has thrown the spotlight back on Lesotho. How we handle the matter will have a bearing on how our justice system is perceived by our international partners. Our conclusion is that we have not come out cleanly over the way we have handled the soldiers’ trials. It is clear that Justice Sakoane watched the case unfold while he was still a High Court judge. And so when he took over the matter, the judge was faced with two options: abet the constant delays or nip these in the bud and get on with the matter. He chose the latter. What we have seen since he took over the matter is a judge with a rare sense of urgency to get the matter done and dusted one way or the other. With the history of how judges work in Lesotho, with some cases taking years before they are concluded, the sense of urgency is a breath of fresh air. We therefore think that no one should begrudge the judge for demonstrating that sense of urgency in dealing with the case. We also understand the judge’s apparent enthusiasm to get the matter resolved to ensure justice for the accused. If the soldiers are guilty, they must be tried and sentenced to long prison terms. If they are acquitted, they must be set free. That is how the rule of law works. It would be a travesty of justice to keep these soldiers in detention for years with no prospect of a quick trial or release. If the government’s intention was to deny asoldiers’ bail, thereby inflicting pain on the accused, we think they have been punished enough. In fact, in the court of public opinion, the tables are slowly turning. Word on the ground is that they would want the soldiers granted bail or tried in the courts of law. Any further moves to detain the soldiers would come out as a vindictive process that is merely designed to inflict pain. The longer this case drags on the more it appears this is an attempt by politicians to punish the soldiers. We were therefore taken aback that while this case was gathering speed, the Director of Public Prosecution Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane has now filed an application seeking the judge’s recusal. Motinyane is now accusing Chief Justice Sakoane of bias and is arguing that he would not be able “to bring an impartial mind to bear on the adjudication of the trial of the accused”. That is a serious charge. We now eagerly wait to see how Chief Justice Sakoane will handle this one.

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