THE paralysis within the judiciary which has resulted in the courts failing to expeditiously attend to criminal cases is forcing the police to free suspects, the police have said.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli this week said they were forced to release suspects before they could be tried as the law stipulates that they can only be detained for 48 hours before being brought to court.
The judiciary has been paralysed by several factors, among them the failure by the judges to address a huge backlog of cases estimated by some within the judiciary to be in the region of 4000 cases. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is currently locked in a court battle with Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara over his attempts to impeach Justice Majara over a litany of misconduct charges.
Dr Thabane wrote to Justice Majara on 27 April 2018 and asked her to ‘show cause’ why she should not be suspended and impeached over several misconduct allegations which include her alleged failure to preside over cases for two years.
Dr Thabane further accuses the chief justice of contributing to the paralysis in the judiciary by failing to take the appropriate disciplinary and punitive measures against her subordinates who neglect their duties to speedily hear cases.
In addition, the magistrates have also complained about poor salaries and poor working conditions which prevented them from fully discharging their mandate to speedily to attend to cases. They even went on an unprecedented strike early last month to protest the government’s failure to address their long-standing welfare grievances. These include concerns about poor salaries, which are said to be way below half of those paid to High Court judges, and lack of security from criminals whose cases would have been handled by the magistrates.
It was against this background that Supt Mopeli this week said that the blame for the failure to try suspects must not be placed on the police.
He said the police were sometimes forced to release suspects before they could be tried as the law stipulates that they can only be detained for 48 hours before being brought to court.
“People might see the offenders back in their communities but they should know that this does not mean that police officers are not doing their jobs,” Supt Mopeli said, adding the law required the police to take the suspects to court within 48 hours after their arrest.
“The law further states that where there are no magistrates, the person arrested can stay longer in the police custody till there is a magistrate who can remand them. But because of the (small) sizes of cells we have in different districts, we are then forced to let some suspects go back home to wait (for trial),” Supt Mopeli added.
Supt Mopeli said there were five criminal cases that would be taken to court once the courts starting functioning normally.
One such case is that of three men who were arrested in connection with armed robbery in the Thaba Tseka district.
Police reports show that on the night of 25 July this year, the three man robbed a family in Lisemeng, Thaba Tseka after they had heard that the victim had a lot of money which was sent from South Africa.
Supt Mopeli said the suspects broke a window at the home of the family and pointed a gun at a man who was thought to have the money.
Supt Mopeli said one of the suspects was a 39-year-old man from Ha-Tikoe, Maseru who possessed a 7.65 pistol and 8 bullets.
He said the other was a 33-year-old man from Khukhune Halebetla in Butha-Buthe but resides in Maseru in Upper Thamae and is known to be a former police officer. He was also found in possession of a 7.65 pistol and 7 bullets
“The other suspect is a 33-year-old who resides in Ha Thetsane and he is a car mechanic,” Supt Mopeli said.
He said the suspects proceeded to Thaba Tseka from Maseru in a D1D van which had been taken to the mechanic for repairs.
They abandoned the vehicle at the scene of the alleged crime.
In another case, Supt Mopeli said Thaba Tseka police also arrested two men for armed robbery on 31 July this year.
One of the suspects is a 40-year-old man and the other is a 43-year-old man.
“These men appear to be serial crooks because they also have 21 other cases and they have been released on bail for some of those cases.”
In Maseru, a 26-year-old man from Hamofoka and his 42-year-old compatriot from Ha Thetsane are currently in police custody for illegally transporting wool and mohair without the required documents.
In Maputsoe, a 19-year-old learner was arrested after he allegedly stabbed and killed his fellow 17-year-old school mate.
The learner was arrested last Tuesday.
Reports show that the two learners were playing with sticks when the deceased hit the suspect. The suspect then took out a knife and stabbed him.
The deceased was rushed to Motebang Hospital where he later died.
Supt Mopeli also said that in Maputsoe, a 48-year-old security guard handed himself to the police after fatally assaulting a 21-year-old security guard who had broken into his home.