FOR fatally shooting a Mohale’s Hoek man eight years ago, a police officer was this week slapped with a five-year prison term or alternatively a M5 000 fine by a High Court judge.
The judge suspended two years of the sentence on condition that he did not commit a similar offence within the next two years.
On Monday the officer paid a M3 000 fine and walked out of court a free man.
While not casting aspersions on the integrity of the judge who handled the case we think the case graphically captures the fundamental flaws within our justice delivery system.
We will not dwell much on why the case was brought before the court eight years after the crime was committed.
Such delays at our courts have been well documented elsewhere.
As we have argued in our previous editorials we expect the justice ministry to expedite the cases and clear the huge backlog that has seen the system creaking at the seams.
Our bone of contention this time is with the sentence meted out on the deviant police officer.
We think the punishment was unusually lenient.
Generally, we are of the opinion that our courts have not given appropriate sentences to individuals convicted of violent crimes.
Culpable homicide is a serious offence.
A M3 000 fine is, in our opinion, a virtual slap on the wrist.
It can only send a message that criminals can commit such horrendous crimes against peace-loving citizens and literally get away with it.
We think our courts need to send a strong message to violent criminals that they will receive stiff sentences commensurate to their crimes.
We need not highlight the fact that Lesotho has seen an upsurge in violent crimes in recent years.
Unless the courts impose stiffer sentences with the government also addressing the other social ills that spur crime, we face a future that is just too ghastly to contemplate.
It is critical therefore that our judges, who are admittedly operating under very difficult circumstances, send a distinct message to delinquents amongst us that their acts of violence will not be tolerated.
They can only do so by locking them away from the rest of us for the good of society.
Treating convicted criminals with kid gloves tends to trigger a cycle of violence as victims pursue justice outside the court system.
Everywhere else in the world violent crimes are treated with the seriousness they deserve.
Convicts can face the hangman’s noose or life in prison.
We are not legal fundis but we know it when High Court judgments have the potential to shock and leave the ordinary man in the street with more questions than answers.
On another level, the Mohale’s Hoek case also graphically captures the endemic problem of abuse of power by law-enforcement agents.
Such naked abuse of authority by the police was totally uncalled for and a more deterrent sentence was therefore necessary.
The police must weed out the rascals among them if they are to transform the police force into a true servant of the people.
Respect for the people’s basic human rights must be a key component of the police training manual.
Brutality and callousness like that exhibited in Mohale’s Hoek should have no place in a modern police force.