Shanghala complains about prison court ‘cage’

ENCLOSED … The dock in the High Court at Windhoek Correctional Facility is enclosed with a metal grill – a feature not found in courtrooms in the main building of the Windhoek High Court.

Former justice minister and attorney general Sakeus Shanghala on Friday said a cage-like enclosure of the dock in the High Court at Windhoek Correctional Facility violates his and other accused persons’ dignity when they appear in court.

Shanghala made the remark while telling acting judge Moses Chinhengo that he objected to the presence of a metal grill between the dock, where he and his co-accused in the Fishrot fraud, corruption and racketeering case sit when they appear before Chinhengo, and the rest of the courtroom.

The grill creates the impression that he and his co-accused are violent and dangerous, which they are not, Shanghala said, adding that they are also not “thugs”. The grill between the dock and the rest of the courtroom should be removed, he said. He also asked that a room at the court building should be provided to him and his co-accused for them to store a copy of the docket containing the state’s evidence on their case, and that they need desks placed in the dock as well so that they have surfaces to use for writing during proceedings in their trial.

Shanghala addressed the judge after Chinhengo delivered a judgement in which he dismissed an application by one of the accused in the Fishrot case, Nigel van Wyk, for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against Chinhengo’s decision not to recuse himself from the case. Chinhengo concluded in his judgement that Van Wyk does not have reasonable prospects of success with an appeal that he wants to take to the Supreme Court against his decision in March to dismiss Van Wyk’s application for his recusal. Van Wyk applied for Chinhengo’s recusal after the judge directed in December last year that the 10 men charged in the Fishrot case should give their pleas on the charges they are facing, despite the fact that five of them were without legal representation at that stage.

Plea proceedings in the trial were halted after Van Wyk filed an application for Chinhengo to step down from the case.

After delivering his judgement on Friday, Chinhengo directed that the trial should proceed on Thursday this week, unless Van Wyk decides in the meantime to petition the chief justice to be allowed to appeal against the recusal judgement delivered in March.

In the recusal judgement, Chinhengo said a reasonable person would not reach a conclusion that a judge would be biased or would take sides merely because the judge has, in the interest of making progress with a trial, required accused persons who were legally represented until just before plea proceedings to give their pleas to the charges they are facing.

Chinhengo noted in his judgement on Friday that when Van Wyk was asked to give his pleas on the first of the charges against him on 8 December last year, his defence lawyer, Mbanga Siyomunji, was present in court.

He also noted that the accused in the Fishrot case were represented by lawyers when they appeared before him for the first time in September last year, and that when the stage was set for the trial to start, the legal practitioners representing some of the accused withdrew because their clients were unable to pay them for their services.

Chinhengo said: “I have repeatedly stated that the accused persons have been in custody for over four years now. Their trial should commence if the right to a trial within a reasonable time is to be realised, hence I called upon the accused to plead to the charges as a first step in registering some progress.”

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